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University of Oregon, Portland Extension 

Reed College 

F. S. CROFTS & CO., NEW YORK, 1937 







To Ethel 


Initially this book was planned as a revision of Early Civilization. 
What followed was not unlike the philosopher's story of the shoe. At 
first the shoe was new. Then the heel wore out and was replaced. A little 
later the sole gave out and a new one was substituted. Finally, the uppers 
refused to serve and new uppers were provided. Now, is the shoe the old 
shoe or is it a new one? Do not ask the philosopher: before you finish 
with him, you might have to go barefoot. Ask the wearer; he will tell you 
it is the old shoe. He knows because he wore it all along. It may pinch a 
little now since the new uppers were sewed in, but it is the same good old 
shoe all right. Ask the Old Woman who lived in a Shoe. She will know. 
Surely her shoe has needed many repairs, considering its generous 
juvenile population. But it is to her the same shoe in which she has made 
her home for these many years. So also with Early Civilization and 
Anthropology^ an Introduction to Primitive Culture. To me it is the same 
book. The latter grew out of the former without breach of continuity. 
As the yearn flitted by and with them promises to the publisher, changes 
and ever new changes were introduced. A radical revision was under 
taken in 1929-30, at Washington, D. C. At that time I was fortunate in 
securing the faithful assistance of Mrs. Dora Fox, to whom I want to 
express my belated recognition. Finally, in January 1936, the decision 
was taken to go through with it. Meanwhile my idea of the book had 
changed so thoroughly as to make it a 'revision' merely pro forma. Five 
months later, when on the last day of June we boarded our train for the 
Kast, the Anthropology was finished. 

The reader is invited to 'look upon the book as a new one. In his eyes 
the work need not bear any allegiance to Early Civilization, nor if per 
chance he has read the earlier book will he find many similarities 
between the two. The entire plan of the work is different. The four chap 
ters of Part I are devoted to a discussion of man, physical and psychic, 
in his relation to the animals and to culture, a topic disposed of in Early 
Civilization in a small section of one chapter. The descriptive chapters 
of the latter have vanished. After considerable hesitation, I decided to 
abandon this procedure, which, under the protective guise of concrete- 
ness, inevitably comprised but a very superficial sketch of primitive cul- 


tures. In place of this the reader will find in the twenty-two chapters 
of Part II, the major portion of this book, a large number of concrete 
and fairly detailed sketches of the different aspects of primitive culture 
industry, art, religion, social organization as exhibited in many 
different tribes. Here also some of the relevant theoretical problems are 
discussed, though relatively briefly. In this section much of the factual 
material already assembled in Early Civilization has been incorporated: 
facts are facts and do not wear with use. The different aspects of primi 
tive culture are brought to a focus in Chapter XXV, 'Primitive Life and 
Thought,' which is based on the last chapter of Early Civilization but 
also contains many new features gleaned from further study and reflec 
tion. Chapters XXV and XXVI, 'Theories of Early Mentality/ of the old 
book have been scrapped. Of the five chapters of the new Part III, de 
voted to the processes of culture, one is almost entirely new, and three 
are entirely so. Here I examine the relations of culture to physical en 
vironment, discuss the phenomena of cultural diffusion and assimila 
tion, and present a sketch of the theories of evolution and progress. 

In addition the book contains two chapters of a kind not usually found 
in anthropological texts, namely Chapter IV, 'How Anthropologists 
Work,' and Chapter XXVI, 'The White Man's Burden.' In Chapter IV 
the reader is inducted into the methods used by field anthropologists in 
collecting their material. In Chapter XXVI the attempt is made to tell the 
disheartening story of the contacts of White civilization with the cultures 
of living primitives. There is much in this story for us to be ashamed of, 
and for this reason, if for no other, it should be told. A section of this 
chapter is devoted to a brief account of the Indian administration of 
Commissioner John Collier. Although I do not share his optimistic faith 
in the possibility of saving the cultures of our Indians from dissolution 
and disappearance, no one can appreciate more than I do his noble effort 
to lighten the plight of Indian tribes in this last hour of their existence as 
the bearers of an autonomous culture. 

Every book comprises two basic elements: that which is written, and 
the writing itself. The first element is the content of the book. Here an 
author's obligation is to those who have collected the materials and 
invented the theories. The choice is his, the labour theirs. The second 
element, the writing of the book, includes the form, that is, the manner of 
writing, and the writing as a processan act of will. In form this book 
differs from Early Civilization, which was my maiden effort in the art of 
presentation and possessed all the earmarks of such a performance. It 
differs also from my theoretical articles, especially the earlier ones, 
which bore evidence of a heavy and pedantic German upbringing (in 


Russia!) and of a taste that might be described as Hegelian. I used to 
think that a sentence was the grander the less it was comprehensible. This 
affliction needed a radical remedy. The cure came via lecturing, especially 
public lecturing in adult groups, as at the New School for Social Research 
in New York, or at the University of Oregon Extension in Portland. As 
one acquires the habit of speaking in the presence of dozens of eager 
eyes, the call for simplicity and clarity .becomes categorical. One learns 
to take his cue from the faces and demeanour of the audience. The frank 
puzzlement on the countenance of a listener, the tortured efforts of an 
other, the unashamed snore from still another, are signs of trouble that 
simply cannot be disregarded. And so one learns the art of directness, of 
simple diction, of lucid exposition. When he subsequently turns from 
speaking to writing, the habit persists. It is as if he were taking his audi 
ence with him into the very sanctum of the study. If the text of the 
Anthropology should indicate that I have learned my lesson, I owe this 
to my audiences, to whom I want at this place to express my obligation. 

There are, however, some persons to whom a more individual and inti 
mate acknowledgement is due. Of these Miss Claire Gallagher, my grad 
uate assistant at Reed College, comes first. Without her faithful and 
thankless labour of taking down dictation and preparing first copy, the 
writing, as act, could not have been accomplished. The magnitude of 
her task, moreover, was enhanced by the fact that the whole thing was 
clone under the constant pressure of academic duties. A debt only less 
great is due to Miss Brunhilde Kaufer, one of my Reed graduates, who 
by some miracle managed to survive the sustained flood of material, and 
succeeded in turning out the final copy on schedule and in a form accept 
able to the publisher. 

There are obligations and obligations. Some are intangible. "Under 
this head I want to mention the names of two friends, my 'adopted sis 
ters' and the sweetest women alive, Frances L Barnes and Grace De Graff. 
They did not take dictation nor did they prepare copy; in my classes they 
sat only casually. But they wanted the book. They felt that I should write 
it. When all seemed to indicate that the thing could not be done, they 
never faltered in their faith. In whatever way I may have failed in carry 
ing out this task, at least I have not disappointed them: the book is written. 

Still another person has contributed her share to make the act of writ 
ing possible; my wife, Ethel Her contribution is the dearer because she 
is so little aware of it. A man busy upon a book is a formidable animal, 
best appreciated at a distance. He does not speak, he does not hear, he 
remembers nothing except irrelevancies, namely, things bearing upon the 
book. To share one's habitation with such a creature is an achievement lit- 


tie short of the heroic. My wife stood up nobly under the strain. For days 
and weeks on end she practised without grumbling the biller art of self- 
effacement. In the words of the Melancsians, she 'grew 1 me., while the hook 
was growing under my hands. To her also I owe the preparation of the 
list of tribes for the final Map, the list of personal names, and the list 
of illustrations. 

I should not close this lengthy yet all too brief list of acknowledgements 
without mentioning, humbly and gratefully, the name of my publisher, 
F. S. Crofts. He has shown almost superhuman patience in waiting for 
years for a book which, in all probability, was never to come. Whether 
now when it is about to see the light, he is to be rewarded for his stoicism, 
lies on the knees of the gods. 

January 29, 1937 
Portland, Oregon 



Part I 



Man and Nature . 3 

Beyond the Animal 6 

II. RACE 13 

What Is Race? 13 

The Variability of a Group 13 

The Stability of Physical Types 16 

The Races of Man 20 

Physical Characteristics of the Races .... 20 

Race Mixture 27 

Race, Language, and Culture 29 

Mental Characteristics of the Races ..... 31 


Animal Mind, . ", 37 

Human Mind. ........... 39 


Part II 

Section I: Economic Life and Industry 


Animal Adjustments. 59 

Man the Tool Maker 63 


Settling Disputes Among the Eskimo 95 



Hunters and Plant Gatherers 100 

An Eskimo Whale Hunt 102 

Hunting the Buffalo 106 

A Maori Fishing Expedition 109 

Domestication and Cultivation 112 


The Nature of Invention. , 118 

Prijnitive and Modern Inventions 127 


The Tchambuli .... 143 


The Ownership of Property 146 

Properly Inheritance .,...... 150 

What Property Means 152 

A Maori Feast , . , 157 

Section 1 1 : Art 


Design, Technique, and Material ,161 

Realistic and Geometrical Art . , , , . . 165 
Primitive Art and Children's Art 169 


Plains Embroidery 171 

Carving and Painting on the North Pacific Coast . 179 

XIII. INDIAN ART (Continued) AND THE Whare Whakairo . 192 

Pueblo Pottery ^<J2 

The Technique of Peruvian Weaving . 200 

The Whare Whakairo, Meeting Hou$$ of the Maori * 205 

Section III: Magic, Religion, and Ritual 

XIV. MAGIC AND RELIGION ......... 208 

What Is Magic? , 208 

Magical Beliefs in Modem Days 211 

Some Problems in the Study of Magic and Religion . 216 

Magic and Science 216 

Magic and Religion 217 

The Individual and the Social Factors in Religion . 219 



Mana or Impersonal Supernatural Power .... 221 

The All-Fat 11 cr 226 

Taboo 231 


Ghukchee Animism 238 

The Guardian Spirit In American Indian Religion . 242 


A[Mlirim>-Men Among the Chukchee and Others . . 249 
The Ghost-Dance Religions of the North American 

Indians 261 


The Supernatural World of the Bella Coola ... 268 

Baganda Dailies 278 

Ceremonial and Religious Life of the Incas . . . 288 

Section IV: Society and Politics 


Groups of Status 296 

Local Groups 296 

Relationship Groups 298 

Dual Divisions or Moieties 311 


Groups of Function 314 

Age, Generation, and Sex Groups ..... 314 

Industrial Groups. 318 

Societies or Associations 319 

Birth Groups . . . , 319 

Property Groups . 320 

Totemism 321 


The TlingU . . 330 

Thelroquois , 334 

Australia 338 


The Baganda 351 

Clans? Moieties and Totemism in California . . . 354 


The Iroquois , . . 361 


The Patwin 366 

Ontong-Java 371 

The Dobuans 372 


The Eskimo 375 

Australia 378 

The Maori 381 

The Baganda 387 

The Incas 395 


Culture and 'Primitive Mind" 407 

Industrial Life . ,410 

The Individual 413 

Religious Life 416 

Social Life 421 

Artistic Life 423 

Primitive Culture as a Whole 424 


What Civilization Does to the Primitives . 427 

The 'Essential Kaffir' at Bay .,.. 430 

'School-boy' Superiority Complex 431 

Indian Administration Under Commissioner John 

Collier ,432 

Part III 



Varieties of Diffusion 455 

Local Cultures in the Light of Diffusion and Invention 462 
.Discontinuous Distribution; Diffusion versus Inde 
pendent Development 455 

Critical Use of Diffusion , 4$g 

The Problem of Cultural Similarities in Relation to 

Diffusion ....*.., 470 


.Culture Areas in North America 475 

How Cultural Traits Travel, ..,.,,, 480 


The Psychology of Diffusion, Adoption, and Assimila 
tion ..... 483 

Borrowing of Traits in a Uniform Cultural Medium 484 
Rapid Diffusion When a Trait Fills a Need or Fits 

a Mood 485 

Migration and Culture 487 

Varieties of Adoption and Assimilation .... 490 
Intra-Tribal and Inter-Tribal Diffusion .... 493 


Pre-scientific Ideas on Evolution 496 

From Lamarck to Spencer 500 


Stages and Rate in Social Evolution: Construction and 

Critique 507 

Theory of Progress 522 


INDICES * , . 539 




1, 2a, 21), 3a, 3b, 4, 5a, 5b. Types of African Huts .... 64. 

6. Sleeping Arrangement on Amazon 65 

7. Blackfoot Travois 67 

8. Philippines Tattooing 68 

9. African Throwing Knives 69 

10. Map: Geographical Distribution of the Eskimo .... 73 

11, 12, 13, 14, 15. Koryak Clothes 76 

16a, b, o, d, e. Alaskan Needle Cases 77 

17a, b. Eskimo Snow House 78 

18. Plan of Eskimo Snow House . 79 

19. Eskimo Sledge 80 

20. Eskimo Dog in Harness 82 

2 la, b. Eskimo Kayak 83 

22. Eskimo Thumb-Protector 84 

23. Eskimo Seal Trumpet 85 

24 Eskimo Plugs for Seal Wounds 86 

25. Eskimo Wooden Bow 87 

26. Eskimo Bone Bows 87 

27. Eskimo Harpoon 88 

28. Eskimo Harpoon in Action 89 

29. Eskimo Bird Spear and Throwing-Board 90 

30. Eskimo Seal-Skin Float 91 

30a s a. Eskimo Scissors 91 

30a b. Eskimo Saw . 91 

31. Eskimo Bow-Drill 92 

32a. Eskimo Lamps 93 

32b. Eskimo Bailing Vessel 93 

32c. Eskimo Spear*Point 93 

33. Map: Distribution of Eskimo Contests . 99 



34. Eskimo Hauling a Walrus 105 

35. Eskimo Arrow-Straighleners ,107 

36. Cheyenne Camp Circle 10iJ 

37. Map: Extermination of the Bufl'alo 110 

38. Andaman Harpoon 121 

39. Trap of Kalahari Bushmen 1 23 

39a. Cassava Squeezer , 1 2-1- 

40. Kwakiutl Copper 155 

41. Mortuary Display ol Kwakiutl Chief * 156 

42. South American Basketry Patterns 163 

42a. Maori Scroll 164 

43. Map: Plains Indians and the Buffalo 171 

44. Plains Design Units 174 

45. Plains Parfleche Designs 177 

46. Pattern-Board for Chilkat Blanket 180 

47. Carvings from Haida Totem Poles 181 

48. Carving of Beaver 181 

49. Tlingit Spoon Carving ........... 182 

50. Kwakiutl Housefront Painting , . . 183 

51. Tsimshian Spoon Carving 183 

52. Tlingit Spoon Carvings * 184 

53. Dancing Hat 184 

54. Carving on Wooden Hat. 185 

55. Grease-Dish 185 

56. Bracelet Design 186 

57. Haida Bear Painting . , 187 

58. Tsimshian Bear Painting 187 

59. Haida Wooden Hal .187 

60. Haida Dog-Fish Painting 187 

61. Haida Slate Carving 187 

62. Haida Slate Dish 187 

63. Tlingit Carved Box ,188 

64. Tlingit Carved Trays , . 189 

65. Chilkat Blankets . , , . 190 

66. Haida Paintings 190 



67. Tlingit Helmet 191 

68. Tlingit Mask 191 

Paradigm of Indirect Clan Exogamy 309 

Paradigm of Four-Class Marriage 309 

Diagram of Totemic Complex 326 

69. Seating Arrangement in Iroquois Long-House 336 

Paradigm of Two-Phratry Marriage, Australia .... 343 

70a. Diagram of Four-Class Marriage, Australia 344 

Paradigm of Eight-Sub-Class Marriage, Australia. . . . 344 
70ft, Diagram of Eight-Sub-Class Marriage, Australia .... 345 

Comparative Table of Type C K' and Type 'A' Relationship 
Terms 348 

710. Diagram of Type 'K' Marriage 348 

716. Diagram of Type *A* Marriage 348 

Table of Relatives in Four Classes (Type 'K') , . . 349 

72. Map: Sibs and Totemism in California. ,.*... 355 

73. Diagram of Iroquois Maternal Family 362 

74. Dobu Village Plan 373 

75. Inca Quipu - 401 

76. Map; Distribution of Types of Clothing in America ... 457 

77. Map: Distribution of Types of Clothing in Africa. - . . 458 

78. Map: Distribution of Types of Huts in Africa 459 

79. Map: Distribution of Totemism in Africa 465 

80. Diagram in Refutation of the 'Comparative Method' . . * 509 



I Man and the Anthropoids facing page 4 

II Zulu Warrior " "22 

III Plains Indian Types " " 23 

IV New Guinea Tree-Houses " "62 

V New Guinea Village " "63 

VI Goaribari Dug-out Canoe ..... " "63 

VII Langalanga Canoe " "70 

VIII Andamanese Shooting Fish .... " "70 

IX Polynesian Clubs " "71 

Xa Eskimo Man " "78 

Xb Eskimo Girl " "79 

XIa Eskimo Ivory Pipe-Stem " "94 

Xlb Eskimo Carvings " "95 

XII Haida Horn Spoons " "160 

XIII Pima Baskets " "161 

XIV Plains Moccasins ...... following page 170 

XV Plains Pipe-and-Tobacco Bags ... " " 170 

XVI Plains Girls' Dresses " "170 

XVII Plains Pipe-and-Tobacco Bags ... " " 170 

XVIII Plains Woman's Leggings " " 170 

XIX Plains Beaded Waistcoat " "170 

XX Mandan Bull Society Dance .... " " 170 

XXI Hidatsa Dog Dancer " "170 

XXII Kwakiutl Cannibal Performer. ... " " 170 

XXIII Haida Totem Pole Models " " 170 

XXIV British Columbia Carved Figure ... " " 170 
XXV Haida Slate-Carving " "170 

XXVI Northwest Coast Rattle " "170 

XXVII Northwest Coast War Clubs .... " " 170 

XXVIII Kwakiutl Ceremonial Dance .... " " 170 

XXIX Maori Carvings " "170 

XXX Interior of New Guinea Clubhouse . . facing page 374 



Chapter I 

Man and Nature 

To the scientist, man is part of the order of nature. In certain respects 
he is like the rest of the physical world. Man has size, weight, shape, 
and colour. He occupies space and his movements are controlled by 
the same laws and limiting conditions that apply to any physical object. 
If he falls from a cliff he will fall like a stone, and the law of falling 
bodies will describe his behaviour accurately and without residue. 

Man is also like all chemical things. In innumerable ways his body is 
a chemical laboratory. The fundamental law of life, namely, to absorb 
foreign substances into one's body, there to transmute them into one's 
own substance, and thereby to live and grow, is in essence a chemical 
process. The processes of vision, breathing, digestion, as well as those 
humanly even more significant but as yet little known or understood 
processes of glandular action, imply chemical transmutations. Man, 
then, is a chemical laboratory. 

Man is like all living things in these reppects, and also in certain 
further respects. The ultimate unit of his body is a cell, which combines 
with the traits of physical and chemical things certain additional fea 
tures of sensitivity and response which distinguish living substances 
from other substances. Man, then, is like a plant: as an organism, he 
first of all vegetates. In order to live, he must absorb food, as does the 
plant. He multiplies by reproduction, as does a plant, even though the 
method is different. His life as an individual has a beginning, an un- 
foldment and an end, as have the lives of all plants. 

Man has yet more characteristics in common with animals. All ani 
mals, even those least differentiated from plants, have a capacity that 
plants lack almost completely, namely, that of a relative freedom of 
movement. By and large, plants are tied to the 'ground.' Before they 
can absorb nourishment, it must come within their reach. Plants have 
roots which greatly enlarge the range within which food is available. 
Beyond this they cannot go. Animals, above the very simplest, go after 
' ' 3 


their food; they travel to reach it, as man does. 1 In several additional 
senses man is like all vertebrate animals. The skeletal framework of his 
body is built about a spinal column. It is symmetrically and bilaterally 
distributed on its sides. The symmetry of the human body, like that 
of all vertebrates, is bilateral not spherical, as is that of many known 
invertebrate animals. Right and left are in symmetry, but not front and 
back or top and bottom. In common with many invertebrates, but es 
pecially with all vertebrates, man has' a nervous sybtcui, the major 
parts of which are: the brain, situated at the front or top of the spinal 
cord, the central apparatus of nervous co-ordination and control; and 
the spinal cord itself, the principal centre of muscular response and 
control. Beyond this, as in all vertebrates and most animals generally, 
the nervous system expands in an ever more refined network through all 
parts of the body, thus insuring sensitivity even in its remotest corners, 
as well as expeditious communication with the nervous centres, 

Another order of vertebrates comes still nearer to man, namely the 
mammals, with whom man shares the additional trait of bringing live 
offspring into the world, fed for a time by the mother's milk. Among 
the mammals the different orders resemble man in different ways. 
Humans share the hunting "instinct" with the animals of prey, gregari- 
ousness with the grass-eaters. 

From a purely physical standpoint, the next higher order of re 
semblance is found with the monkeys. Like man, they have arms and 
hands. In this respect some monkeys are, in fact, more human than 
humans, in that they possess four arms and hands, with the tail as a 
near fifth. In physiognomy and the expression of emotions the higher 
monkeys are almost preposterously human. At the top rung of the 
ladder, finally, we find the Anthropoid Apes, the gibbon, orang-utan, 
gorilla, and chimpanzee. These are the man-like creatures par excellence 
in the animal world. In skeletal framework, muscular, physiological and 
neural organization the Anthropoids are like man in numerous par 
ticular and detailed features. They are, moreover, more nearly ad 
justed to the erect gait than any other animal, short of man himself. 
As Huxley once said, there is more difference between the Anthropoids 
and the other animals, including the monkeys, than between the Anthro 
poids and man (see Plate I). 

Now it will be seen what was meant, by saying that man is part of 

^ * This differentiation between plants and animals applies more precisely to the 
higher orders, especially the terrestrial ones. Between the lower orders of aquatic 
animals and some aquatic plants the distinction cannot always be drawn with 


The Chimpanzee and Drang skeletons belong to young specimens in which' the 

resemblance to man is more striking. (Ernst Haeckel, Der Kampf urn den 

EntwickelungS'Gedanken. ) 


the order of nature. In so and so many respects he is like all physical 
things, like all chemical substances, like living creatures, like plants, 
like animals, like vertebrates, like mammals, like monkeys, and like the 
Anthropoids. In so and so many respects he is of one kind with all 
these things and creatures. 

1 might venture the guess that many a reader, while running over 
these pages, will think: he is talking about evolution! Now this is not, 
strictly speaking, true. I have not said a word about evolution. All I 
have done is to present factual evidence of man's similarities to the 
different orders of natural things. Everyone knows that classification 
the next step after description in all scientific procedure is based on 
the noting of similarities and differences and followed by grouping 
similar things together, and different things apart. On the basis of the 
facts here presented any unprejudiced person would group man with 
the rest of nature, and more particularly with the animals, and still 
more particularly with the higher animals, especially the Anthropoid 
Apes. This is what is meant by saying: To the scientist, man is part 
of the order of nature. 

We may, however, go one step further. Taught by experience, we 
ascribe similarity or resemblance in living things to genetic relation 
ship. Because all men are alike, more like each other than they are 
like anything else, we classify them as belonging to genus Homo, a 
group of common biological ancestry. When we are confronted with 
two White men, we do not hesitate to class them with the White race. 
When, in addition, they have blond hair, blue eyes, tall stature, long 
heads, we are almost certain that they are Nordics. Once more, then, a 
reduction to common ancestry. If, finally, they display resemblances 
in form of face, finer shades of eye colour, size and shape of mouth, 
form of nose, curvature of the ear, they are declared to be brothers. 
And the more minute these resemblances, the greater our astonishment 
should they prove not to be closely related. Here empirical judgment 
runs parallel with the verdict of science. When we become acquainted 
with the manifold resemblances, in structure and function, between 
man and the vertebrates, mammals, monkeys, apes, we should not 
waver in ascribing these also to genetic relationship, community of 
descent And, the more detailed the resemblances, the closer must be 
the common ancestor. This is not evolution. It is a statement of facts, 
described and classified, plus an indication of the direction in which an 
interpretation must lie. 2 

2 In Chapter XXX we shall return to this subject, to deal, in a brief resume, 
with the theory or theories of evolution. 


There will be those, of course, who prefer to deal with the history 
of the earth, inanimate and animate, in terms of creation. With them 
we have no quarrel; there is no disputing about faith. This much, how 
ever, can be added by way of clarifying the issue: Suppose the Divine 
Being is held responsible for the creation of man and of all the species 
of animals. Then there are two alternatives. Either the Creator gave 
the animal series the form which to a scientist means genetic unity, 
because this was the only way in which the series could be created. If 
so, divine authority is added to that of the scientist and to the common- 
sense hunch of the plain man, in support of the naturalistic view. Or 
the Creator deliberately cast his handiwork into a mould which would 
befog and mislead the minds of thinking men but I doubt whether 
the advocates of creationism would care to ascribe to the Divine In 
telligence a scheme so diabolical. 

Beyond the Animal 

Man then is very much of one kind with the higher animals, the 
Anthropoid Apes above all. He has, we saw, so much in common with 
them that in any unprejudiced view he must without hesitation be 
classed with these creatures. In saying this, one should, of course, not 
imply that any or all of these highest mammals are to be regarded as 
the direct ancestors of mankind. This is patently not the case. The 
gibbon, for example, with his enormously elongated arms, is in this 
feature less like man than some of the monkeys in his own ancestral 
tree. In other words, the Anthropoid Apes, each one in its own way, 
represent specializations in development which are not on the direct 
route to man. Close relatives of ours these Anthropoids certainly are, 
but along a collateral, not a direct line of descent. 

So far we have dealt, however briefly, with man's similarities with 
other animals. The time has now come to stress the differences. Rooted 
in a common animal tree of descent and relationship, man has, in his 
own and unique way, become a species like unto itself: just man. In 
the process of becoming human, man's prehuman ancestor had to un 
dergo a number of striking and, as the future proved, significant changes. 
He learned to stand erect 8 without difficulty, to walk and breathe in 

* This, be it noted, is an art that will be learned. Speaking strictly physically, 
man s posture on the 8 oles of his feet is one of unstable equilibrium, both as to 
standing and as to walking. Construct a doll of human size, stand it up without 
support, and it will fall at the first opportunity. The baby learns to stand and 
walk gradually, if not as gradually as is at times supposed. I knew a little girl 
once who, when she was learning to walk, was supported by being held up by the 


his own peculiar way. The human hand developed, unique in its ca 
pacity and versatility. Radical changes look place in the sensory re 
lationship to nature; the sense of smell receded, that of sight came to 
the fore. The arms, though relatively shorter than among the Anthro 
poids, became longer and stronger than they were among the lower 
monkeys, the spider monkey excepted, in relation, be it understood, 
to the length of the body. The foot, which makes bipodal standing, 
walking and running possible, became flattened out and lost its pre 
hensile proclivities. Thus the foot specialized, whereas the hand be 
came more versatile. The eyes moved to the front and learned to co 
operate in vision. The animal snout receded and a real nose made its 
appearance. The skull, no longer carried in front of the body but 
perched on top of it, became larger and was supported by readjusted 
muscles. The human animal, finally, became more moderate in procrea 
tion than most of its prehuman forebears. Let us consider, one by one, 
some of these items in man's advance beyond the animal. 

We know, of course, that many animals below the apes can on oc 
casion stand erect. None of them, however, are comfortable when doing 
so. The bear, who wobbles along on all fours when in peace and un 
disturbed, assumes an erect position when ready to meet and hug an 
adversary. He does not, however, like to do so, and when the job is 
done he returns to his more normal position. A horse can rear, and 
with a little training can persist in this erect position for some time. 
This, however, is for the horse a position of unstable equilibrium, as 
many a rider has discovered to his grief when carelessly pulling on 
the reins of a rearing horse, thus making it fall backwards. And so on 
with many others. 

Perhaps the real development in the direction of the upright posture 
began with the gibbon. Though eminently an arboreal creature, the 
gibbon may be called an 'erect climber/ and when on the ground, it 
is an 'erect biped*' In animals which walk on all fours, the spine and 
the long axis of the body cavity run approximately parallel to the 
ground. The internal organs are packed in these cavities in such a 
way as to be supported by the cage formed by the ribs, by the wall of 
the abdomen, and by the front portion of the pelvis which in these ani 
mals is greatly elongated, forward and backward. In an animal adapted 
for an upright posture, on the other hand, the contents of the abdomen 
must be so fixed and suspended that they will not slip downward in 

top of Her dress. After she had mastered the art, she continued for some time to 
hold herself by the scruff of the neck while walking, having evidently been con 
ditioned to accept this gesture as part of the walking process. 


that position. In the upright primates, including the gibbon, chim 
panzee, orang-utan and gorilla, as well as man, the bowels and 
the other viscera are closely bound to the back wall of the abdominal 
cavity or suspended from the head end. That this adjustment, even in 
the human, is not quite perfect may be gathered from the fact that 
some members of the species suffer from an intestinal dislocation 
called a 'rupture/ which must be remedied by artificial means to patch 
up what nature has imperfectly constructed. In conjunction with this 
goes the reduction of the tail which has already proceeded far among 
the Anthropoids. In man it is normally absent externally, that is. 
Here again abnormalities will occur and a human infant is sometimes 
born with a diminutive tail. 

The new posture creates a condition to which the process of breathing 
must be adjusted. In the pronograde animals, or quadrupeds, inspira 
tion is brought about merely by the muscles which are attached to the 
immovable shoulder girdle which pulls the flexible rib-case forward 
and downward, but when the body axis is changed and the spine 
comes to stand perpendicularly to the ground, a new method of respira 
tion develops which may be called 'internal': the thorax is enlarged 
for the drawing in of the air by the lowering of the floor of the diaphragm 
in the thoracic cavity. With this also goes a gradual change in the shape 
of the vertebral column, which ultimately assumes a somewhat S-like 

And then the hand! The utilization of the fore limb as a supporting 
organ in walking upon the ground obviously must and did result in the 
stiffening and fixation of its mobile elements. The fore limbs of quad 
rupeds, whether with claw-equipped paws or hoofs, are good enough 
for the purposes they must serve, but they are not hands. For discrim 
inate grasping and versatile manipulation they are useless. If any of 
these animals, for example the cats, did develop great skill in tree 
climbing, they achieved this by means of specialized claws with which 
to dig into the bark of a tree. The development of the prehensile fore 
limb in tree climbing is thus a necessary preamble to the human hand. 

It is significant in this connection that the hind limbs of an animal, 
owing to their very position, are better adapted for supporting the 
weight of the body than for grasping and exploring. The fore limbs, 
on the other hand, which are nearer to the central part of the nervous 
system, that is, the brain, as well as to the organs of sight and smell, 
are exploited for purposes of investigation /defence, and attack. Among 
the tree-climbing preprimate monkeys, the hind limbs adjusted them 
selves to the arboreal life by developing prehensile facilities, almost or 


even quite equalling those of the fore limbs, thus initiating a stage 
in animal evolution known as 'four-handed.' It must, however, be re 
membered that among the tree-climbing monkeys, as well as the gibbon, 
the hand is primarily adjusted to climbing, grasping of branches, and 
the supporting of a considerable weight suspended from it. Thus the 
hand in these creatures is narrow and long, and so are the digits. The 
thumb, having no particular use in this set of functions, is abbreviated 
and relatively supernumerary; in certain instances, in fact, it disap 
pears altogether. Only later, following along the line marked out by 
the chimpanzee and gorilla, the human hand, now devoted mainly to ex 
ploration and manipulation, becomes more moderate in length, increases 
in width, and becomes equipped with a thoroughly adequate thumb 
which moves freely in a direction towards the other digits and effectively 
co-operates with them, 

In these new situations the sense organs were also readjusted. The 
land-grubbing quadrupeds are nose-minded. The nose, with its highly 
developed sensory equipment, is in them the forepost of the organism. 
It guides them, informs them, and warns them. Up in the trees the 
usefulness of the organ of smell is greatly reduced. In place of this, 
what becomes necessary is a multiplicity of rapid and accurate muscular 
co-ordinations which must have their sensory and external, as well as 
their internal and neural, representations. Not only is the nose in its 
earlier forms an exploratory organ, by smelling, but also a tactile one: 
it actually bumps into things. Such accessory organs as feelers and 
whiskers are symptomatic of this function. The value of all this is 
enhanced by a projecting muzzle or snout. If the food is to be seized 
with the teeth, the jaws should project considerably beyond the visual 
plane, else the eyes would cease to function properly by being sub 
merged in the food. It is, moreover, important for the animal to be 
able to look about while it is eating. In the life in the tree all this 
is no longer so necessary, and so we find that the monkeys and Anthro 
poids undergo marked diminution in the forward projection of the 
snout, even though it should not be forgotten, as a check on these some 
what speculative statements, that the gorilla and orang, each in its 
own way, have protruding snouts. 

In the arboreal monkeys as well as the Anthropoids, markedly the 
gibbon, the arms underwent a lengthening comparable to the lengthen 
ing of man's legs. In the case of the gibbon, as already stated, this 
process was extreme, its arms becoming enormous in proportion both 
to the hind limbs and to the size of the body. The ape-like prehuman 
ancestor, on descending to the ground, had no longer any use for this 


excessive length of arm, and so man's arms are relatively short when 
compared to his extremely long legs; they are, however, long enough 
and strong enough for the purposes for which henceforth they are to 
be devoted, namely reaching, grasping, exploring, manipulating, and 
lifting. When it was no longer necessary to lift one's own weight by the 
arms, they could be devoted to lifting other weights, while one's feet 
were firmly planted on the ground. Thus a shortening of the forearm 
set in. 

Next to the arm and hand, the leg and foot. The erect position and 
the associated function of adequately supporting the weight of the 
body and balancing it upon the foot expressed themselves in the lengthen 
ing of the leg, the strengthening of the leg muscles and the supporting 
bones. From this standpoint man's legs are further ahead in comparison 
with those of the Anthropoids than the latter's arms are in comparison 
with those of man. The major adjustment, however, was that undergone 
by the foot, which from a grasping organ became a supporting one. 
Many terrestrial quadrupeds are digitigrade : they walk upon their toes. 
The primates, on the other hand, are plantigrade: they walk on the 
soles of their feet. When the foot was transformed into a supporting 
organ, the great toe was brought into line with the other toes; also it 
increased in length, thus becoming the principal base for the support 
of the body, as has been experienced by those who have for one reason 
or another lost the use of that organ or the organ itself. Even the 
presence of an enveloping and reinforcing shoe does not quite suffice 
to make up for the loss of a big toe. The toe altogether lost its original 
twist and was turned out so that the nail was now directed upward and 
the plantar surface rested upon the ground. Thus equipped, the foot 
no longer needed the active co-operation of the lesser toes, which be 
came reduced in size and almost degenerate in their passive immobility. 4 

In this connection Hooton remarks that the foot developed into a 
specialist, exclusively and effectively devoted to the purpose of walk 
ing, running, and in other ways supporting the body, whereas the hand, 
in comparison, became a versatile organ, doing a great many things ex 
ceedingly well. 5 

4 It must, of course, be remembered that this relatively recent recession in the 
strength, mobility, and independence of the toes can within limits be rescinded under 
duress, as has been demonstrated more than once by people born without arms, and 
less satisfactorily by those who have lost them in later years. By the exercise of in 
finite patience and much practice, they learn to make very adequate use of their 
toes, even to the extent of wielding a violin bow. 

5 E. A. Hooton, Up from the Ape, p. 134. This entire sketch of the emergence of 
man from his prehuman ancestors is no more than a paraphrase of Hooton*s ex 
ceedingly able presentation of the topic. 


Associated with the reduction of the snout is the displacement of the 
eyes from the lateral to the frontal plane, a change which seems to have 
made possible stereoscopic vision. To this might be added the further 
fact that the reduction of the interorbital space, possibly associated 
with the diminution of the olfactory sense, also enhanced the possibility 
of stereoscopic vision. 

With all of these dislocations and shifts in the development of the 
sensory equipment goes a change in the shape of the snout. In a quad 
ruped the skull is suspended from the end of the spine by two knobs 
or condiles on the occipital or back surface of the cranium. The head 
of the animal is not balanced on the end of the spine but is supported 
by powerful muscles and ligaments which are attached to the long 
spines of the vertebrae and elsewhere. The mammalian snout projects 
along the line of the vertebral column. When an animal like a dog squats 
upon its haunches or sits upon its hind legs, it lowers its muzzle so that 
the head rotates forward and downward through almost a quarter of a 
circle, and the long axis of the snout and skull is now perpendicular 
to the axis of the spine. The nodding of the head is accomplished by 
the skull moving forward upon its occipital condiles. In the erect-sitting 
arboreal animals this change in the position of the head tends to become 
permanent, 'the condillar knobs and the occipital foramen between 
them migrate from their original position on the back of the skull 
to a new site at the base of the skull, so that the head may now be said 
to "rest" upon the spinal column instead of being suspended from it.' 7 
At this stage, however, the head does not balance upon the spine, on 
account of the forward projection of the muzzle and the lack of develop 
ment of the occipital parts of the brain, to offset the protrusion of the 
snout. As the snout recedes, a process associated with the freeing of the 
fore limbs and the habit of hand feeding, a simultaneous backward 
growth of the occipital lobes of the brain takes place; this provides 
cortical representation for the sense of vision, now on the ascendant. 
These associated changes are already observable in the Tarsius monkey 
and they become even more noticeable in the Anthropoids and in man- 

Another feature which man probably owes to his arboreal ancestry 
is a reduction in the number of the young. One might conjecture that 
the very activity of an arboreal life would be prohibitive of pregnancy 
involving more than one or two offspring. If this be not so, there is the 

6 Hooton here warns against the assumption that such a frontal position of the 
eyes was a direct or mechanical effect of the shortening of the muzzle. 

7 E. A. Hooton, op. cit., pp. 97-98. (By permission of The Macmillan Company, 


additional factor of caring for several young simultaneously in a tree, 
certainly a difficult task, at least for a larger animal. The lowest Pri 
mates,' writes Hooton, 'such as Lemurs, often produce two young at a 
birth; the lowliest of the New World monkeys, the Marmosets, usually 
have three young at once; but in the rest of the monkeys and the higher 
forms, one monkey at a time is the rule. The number of pairs of breasts 
on the mother's body are reduced in accordance with the diminishing 
number of offspring produced at a single pregnancy.' s 

Over and above all these changes, and by far exceeding them in 
significance, is the growth of the brain with the accompanying changes 
in the shape of the skull. Our insight into the nature of the factors re 
sponsible for this fateful growth and of the mechanisms by which it 
was achieved is so fragmentary and imperfect that it will perhaps be 
best to pass over in silence the scientific speculations bearing on this 
point. Suffice it to say that a fairly steady growth is observable when 
the New World monkeys are compared with those of the Old World. 
The brain of the gibbon is intermediate between those of the Old World 
monkeys and those of the other Anthropoids. The orang-utan has a- 
more voluminous brain, with more convolutions and fissured surface- 
than has the gibbon; the brain of the chimpanzee is still larger, and that , 
of the gorilla is largest of all and most closely comparable in pattern 
to that of man. Even the gorilla's brain, however, is no more than 
1/150 to 1/200 of his body weight, whereas the human brain approxi 
mates 1/50 of the body weight. 

8 Ibid., p. 76. It is interesting to note that the gestation period of the chimpanzee 
is the same as that of man: nine months. The period is eight months in the orang 
and gorilla and probably seven in the gibbon. 

9 Hooton, op. cit., Part 2, The Primate Life Cycle,' pp. 46-206. 

Chapter II 

What Is Race? 

The Variability of a Group. Race to the anthropologist is a purely 
physical concept. To define race is to characterize a group of men from 
the standpoint of their common hereditary physical traits. Race, there 
fore, as a student of mine once put it, is inherited breed. Or more 
fully, a race is a subdivision of mankind having certain inborn physical 
traits in common,; Now a layman in reading such a definition might 
conclude that races or physical types are characterized, say, by certain 
sizes, weights, head-forms, skin colour, or what not, in such a way that 
all the individuals of the race or type are identical in the possession of 
these traits. The scientist knows and the observant layman suspects 
*hat such is, in fact, not the case. Similarity or identity in a physical 
trait is found in a group of men only under conditions of artificial 
selection. The Prussian king, Frederick the Great, we are told, had an 
inordinate liking for tall men. Being a king, he ordered for himself a 
guard of grenadiers all of whom were six-footers. Even here, of course, 
there was some variation, but for all practical purposes, six-footers 
they were. This, however, was not a natural group ; it was an artificial 
pne, deliberately selected. Natural groups always vary. When we say 
that Scotchmen are tall, Swiss or Italians relatively short, what is meant 
is not that all Scotchmen are six-footers nor that every Scotchman is 
taller than any Swiss. Clearly, this is not so. The short Scotchman, 
Harry Lauder for example, is certainly shorter than many a Swiss; 
and if you compare a random group of Scotchmen with a random group 
of Swiss, you will find a very large number of individuals in the two 
groups to be of the same size. The same applies to all other traits. 

Further, if a group of people in a natural population are classified 
according to a physical trait, such as size, weight, or shape of head, 
the situation works out in the following way. Suppose we take size. 
Then we shall find a considerable number of persons who will be of a 
size somewhere between the tallest and the smallest member of the 

group ; a smaller number of people will be either shorter or taller than 



those in the first group ; and so on, until we come to the extremes, where 
a very small number of people will be found to be either much taller or 
much shorter than a vast majority of the group. A distribution of this 
sort, also referred to as the dispersion of a group, can be readily repre 
sented by a curve in which the sizes will be indicated on the base-line, 
whereas the curve itself will represent the end-points of the verticals 
corresponding to the number of cases of each size. 

It is important to note in this connection that the number of cases 
connected with each size is as significant as the variability itself. Dis 
regard this factor and the whole thing becomes absurd and will lead 
to meaningless results. Take, for example, a class of students. Some 
where in the second row sits a girl with a pug nose. Now you might 
conceive the idea that the nose of this girl represents the type of nose 
of the class. Should anyone point out to you that the girl to her left 
has a different nose, say a straight Greek one, whereas the boy to her 
right has a different one again, say a convex nose with a drooping tip, 
popularly known as a Jewish or 'Semitic' nose, you might answer that 
these noses are deviations from the type. Proceeding, then, on this 
basis you could successfully arrange the class, as to noses, from the 
standpoint of their differences from the nose of that particular initial girl. 
This result, however, will mean precisely nothing, excepting only this: 
that any unselected group of individuals varies as to nose. On the other 
hand, if you count up the pug noses and the straight noses and the 
convex noses and the other kinds of noses in the class, always mindful 
of the number of persons possessing a particular kind of nose, and 
represent this distribution in a curve such as mentioned before, the 
result will actually reveal the variability of the group, as to nose. If 
the class, moreover, is a large one and as a group accidental or non- 
selected, in so far as nose is concerned, then it can pass for a fair 
sample of the population of the district, and what you will have is a 
measure of the nasal type of the local population. 

Laymen, impatient of complicated calculations or procedures, might 
object to this on the ground that taking an average of the noses would 
be just as good and much simpler. Now an average, with reference to 
any particular measurable thing, is, of course, the sum-total of the 
individual measurements, divided by the number of cases. The average 
has a meaning. A group of an average size of 6 feet is a taller group, 
by and large, than one with an average size of 5 feet 5 inches. Still, 
the average alone gives one a very imperfect idea of the actual char 
acter of the group, as to this particular trait. This can be illustrated 
by the simplest of examples. Take three men, one 6 feet tall, another 

RACE 1 5 

5 feet 10 inches, and still another 5 feet 8 inches. The average size of 
the group of three will be 5 feet 10 inches. Then take another group 
of three men: the tallest is 6 feet 2 inches, the next 5 feet 10 inches, 
and the smallest 5 feet 6 inches. The average size is 5 feet 10 inches. 
Finally, take a third group: all three men are 5 feet 10 inches. The 
average of the group is once more 5 feet 10 inches. It will be seen, 
then, that the average is the same in all three cases, even though the 
groups are very different indeed. This is what is meant by saying that 
an average gives us no idea of the dispersion or variability of a group. 
We may have a highly uniform group, with the smallest and the tallest 
being very much like the average, and a highly variable one where the 
smallest is much smaller and the tallest much taller than the average. 
Yet both groups may have the same average. Variability then is sig 
nificant. It follows from this that to do justice to the principle of varia 
bility, some measure should be found which would give an idea of the 
variability of a group about its average. Such a measure has, in fact, 
been found by mathematicians, and it is designated by a somewhat 
mystifying symbol, the Greek letter o- (sigma). We need not here ana 
lyze the nature of that figure any further. Suffice it to say that it is a 
measure of the variability of the group. If the group is relatively uni 
form with reference to a certain trait, so that its extremes vary but little 
from the average, the cr will be small. If, on the other hand, the dis 
persion of the group with reference to the trait is great, so that the 
extremes are very different from the average, the o- will be large. In 
calculating the or, both the range of variability and the number of cases 
for each measurement are taken into account. 

The final point which emerges from these considerations is this: the 
characterization of a group with reference to a certain trait is one thing; 
the placing of an individual into a certain group, another. Suppose 
you are interested in a group from the standpoint of shape of head. 1 
You find it long-headed. Now in any long-headed population, or a 
sample of it, there will be numbers of individuals with relatively round 
heads. Suppose then you take another population, a round-headed one 
or a sample of it. Here you will discover numbers of individuals with 

3 The shape of head is computed from the length and the width of the head. 
The length is measured from the glabella, the bony point between the eyes, to a 
point at the back of the head farthest removed from the glabella, as the crow flies. 
The width of the head is measured from a point a little back of and above one ear 
to a similar point near the other ear. The shape of the head indicated by ihe 
so-called 'cephalic index' is the percentile relation of width to length of head: 
wx 100 * /. A cephalic index of 100 would mean that width equalled length: a per 
fectly round head. The nearer to 100 the index, the wider or broader the head; the 
further from 100 the index, the longer the head. 


relatively long heads. You will find, in the end, that some of these rel 
atively long-headed individuals in your round-headed group will be 
identical in head-shape with some of the relatively round-headed in 
dividuals in the long-headed group. In other words, the two series will 
overlap. Or, to put it still differently, there will be a considerable num 
ber of individuals who might be allocated to either one of the two series. 
It follows from this that if you pick up a man at random and measure 
his head, then unless indeed he is an extreme long-head or an extreme 
round-head your knowledge of this measurement will not suffice to 
determine to what kind of population he belongs: he might either rep 
resent a relatively long-headed variant in a round-headed population 
or a relatively round-headed variant in a long-headed one. The lesson 
we should learn from these considerations, but usually do not, is this: 
when one compares, say, two groups of people with reference to any 
trait, it is important to know how much overlapping there is between 
the dispersions of that trait in the two groups or in adequate samples of 
the two groups. If the overlapping is large, a separation of the groups as 
distinct, with reference to this trait, will evidently be artificial and is 
likely to lead to error or confusion. Only when the overlapping is 
slight, or when there is no overlapping, can the groups be regarded as 
thoroughly different with reference to a particular trait.? Finally, when 
we speak of types, races, or sub-races, we refer or should refer to the 
characteristics of groups rather than to those of individuals. 

The Stability of Physical Types. Our second preliminary problem 
is that of the stability of physical traits. We need no knowledge of 
scientific theory or method to state that human groups differ in their 
physical characteristics. The question is: in how far are these physical 
group characteristics stable ? Now the three factors that can conceivably 
affect the physical character of a group are these: intermarriage, within 
or without the law; selection; physical environment. Without going 
into this matter further, for the moment, we all know that interbreeding 
of a group of one type with a group of a different type will affect 
the character of both groups. When Whites breed with Negroes, China 
men with Whites or Negroes, Indians with Whites, long-heads with 
round-heads, tall groups with short groups, things happen which change 
the physical traits of these groups. 

Another possible cause for a change in physical type is selection. 
Without stopping to consider this factor either, we might state that 
it is at least possible that individuals possessing a certain trait or lacking 
one will die out in a population because of their inability to endure 
certain conditions. It has been assumed, for example, that some of the 

RACE 17 

inhabitants of the Arctic regions, such as the Eskimo, have undergone a 
selective process with reference to their capacity to endure extremely 
low temperatures. As a result, the present Eskimo population is better 
able to carry on in its forbidding environment than were its ancestors. 
We need not pass here on the correctness of the hypothesis in this par 
ticular instance (c/. p. 75, n. 3) . I cite it merely as an illustration of what 
is meant by a change in the type of a group under the influence of selec 

Another possible cause for change in a group is the influence of 
physical environment. If the physical environment of a group changes, 
or if the group moves into a new and different physical environment, 
will it persist in its physical characteristics or will it change? Let us 
consider this last point. 

By an act of Congress of February 20, 1907, a Commission was 
created, consisting of three senators, three members of the House of 
Representatives, and three persons appointed by the President of the 
United States, to make an investigation of immigration in the United 
States. The labours of the Commission were to extend to many different 
fields appertaining to different phases of the life, welfare, occupations, 
criminality, assimilability, etc., of the immigrants in this country. One 
of these investigations referred to the changes in bodily form of the 
descendants of European immigrants in the United States; this was 
under the supervision of Professor Franz Boas of Columbia University. 
In the words of the director, an attempt was made to solve the following 
questions: (1) Is there a change in the type of development of the im 
migrant and his descendant due lo his transfer from his home surround 
ings to the congested parts of New York? (2) Is there a change in the 
type of the adult immigrant arriving on the shores of our continent? 

In view of the complexity of the problem and the limitation of time 
and money. Boas first undertook a preliminary investigation of two 
types of immigrants in.New York City, namely the East European Jew 
and the South Italian.jThe result of this preliminary inquiry was the 
discovery that the descendants of both kinds of immigrants did change 
in America^ In connection with one measurement, namely the shape 
of the head, the result was this: The cephalic index is about 78 among 
the Sicilians born in Sicily. They are, therefore, decidedly long-headed. 
The cephalic index among American-born descendants of Sicilians 
rises to 80: they become more broad-headed. The cephalic index of 
East European Jews born in Europe is about 84, which is a round or 
broad head. Among the Jews of East European ancestry born in America, 
it sinks to 81 : they become more long-headed. It will be seen that, in 


this instance, the cephalic indices of the two groups became less dif 
ferent among the individuals born in America than they were among 
the immigrants themselves: the difference between the indices of Si 
cilians and Eastern Jews in Europe is 6 units, whereas the difference 
between the indices of their descendants in America is only 1 unit. 2 

Boas then proceeded with a more ambitious investigation of the im 
migrants and their descendants. In order to conduct his inquiry within 
the limits of the time and money available, he restricted the investiga 
tion to immigrants in New York City. He further restricted the range 
of the groups investigated to five racial sub-types, the Scotch, Bohemians, 
East European Jews, and two types of Italians. The measurements taken 
comprised height, standing and sitting; weight; cephalic index; facial 
index; 3 colour of the eyes; and colour of the hair. The individuals in 
vestigated were the immigrants themselves born in Europe, their chil 
dren born in Europe?, and their children born in the United States. The 
latter were subdivided into 10 groups, those born 1 year after the ar 
rival of the mother, 2 years, 3 years, and up to 10 years after the arrival 
of the mother in this country. 4 

The results of this inquiry were as definite as they were surprising 
and significant. It was found that (1) the descendants of these immi 
grants differed in physical type from their parents and their brothers 
and sisters born in Europe; (2) the change in physical type was specific 
for each one of the five sub-racial groups; and (3) this change in each 
type was cumulative, that is, it increased from year to year. For ex- 

^ 2 This preliminary result was promptly seized upon by the press as a confirma 
tion of the 'melting pot' idea. At last, it was claimed, scientific evidence was forth- 
coming of the operation of this heretofore somewhat mystic entity, the American 
scene. The peoples who came to our shores would become as one and rapidly so. 
This popular version of Boas's initial report was, needless to say, quite beside the 
mark. Boas himself never regarded this reduction of the difference in the cephalic 
indices of the Italians and Jews as more than a peculiar coincidence, due to the 
tact that the long-headed individuals happened to change in the direction of broad- 
headedness, whereas the broad-headed ones changed in the direction of long- 
headedness, thus moving towards the ultimate limit of a common figure. What 
struck Boas and stimulated him to continue the investigation was not this feature 
of the result, but the fact that there was a change and that the direction of the 
change differed for the two types in question. 

8 In the facial index the breadth of the face is expressed as a percentage of its 

* These measurements were taken by Boas's assistants, including the present 
writer, who worked in groups of two, one investigator taking the measurements, 
the other recording the figures. Some of the measurements were secured in schools, 
but a larger number were obtained by house-to-house canvassing and at such gath 
erings as the yearly athletic contests of the Scotch clans. 

RACE 19 

ample, if the cephalic index tended towards greater long-headedness, the 
children born 1 year after the arrival of the mother were a little more 
long-headed than the European parents or the European-born children; 
those born 2 years after the arrival of the mother exhibited this trait 
to a greater extent; and so on up to those children born 10 years after 
the arrival of the mother, who were the most long-headed of all. 

Such were the results. How could they be interpreted? Fortunately, 
the conditions of this particular investigation were such that two of 
the possible causes for change in type would be eliminated at the outset. 
Change through intermarriage was excluded because the parents of the 
European and American children were the same. The possibility of 
selection was also precluded because the time involved was so short. 
The residual possible cause was, therefore, to be seen in the effect of 
the American physical environment on the European-born types. Just 
precisely what is meant by environment here is another question. It 
might cover climate, location, eating habits the last factor combining 
both physical environment and certain cultural elements or perhaps 
some other as yet unidentified factor of the physical environment. As 
there was neither time nor money to pursue this research any further, 
no more specific conclusion could be formulated than that the change 
was due to immigration into a different environment. As so often in 
science, the answer also set a problem. 

These results, which may be justly characterized as revolutionary, 
have an obvious bearing on the general problem of the stability of racial 
types, and this again should reflect on our view of the history of man 
in its physical aspect. If change of environment affects physical type, 
the various races and sub-races of mankind must have been subject to 
this influence again and again during their frequent wanderings over 
the earth. On a small or large scale, in Asia and Africa, Europe and 
America, as well as between the different continents, movements of 
peoples of all types and descriptions are known to have occurred from 
the most primitive times, and there must have been other movements 
of which no evidence has been preserved. If the results of this investi 
gation can be generalized and if true, they must have general validity 
then all such movements must have been accompanied by change in 
physical type. Thus the picture of race in history shifts from one of 
stability to one of recurrent changes. 


The Races of Man . 

Physical Characteristics of the Races. From the standpoint of the 
cultural anthropologist, the presence of race is an encumbrance. In his 
concrete studies he practically always disregards it. He can do so with 
impunity, for it is obvious even to the casual observer that the cultural 
differentiation of mankind has proceeded much further than the racial 
one, and that within each race all sorts of cultures are to be found, 
not only qualitatively different ones, but also different in degree of ad 
vancement. Much as the cultural anthropologist would like to disre 
gard race altogether, he may not do so, quite. In the first place, if he is 
a field worker gathering fresh material at its source, he frequently finds 
himself in a position where he must study man physical as well as man 
cultural. Even more important is the fact that whatever race may or 
may not mean inherently, it does mean a great deal psychologically 
and socially. It is, as has been said, a state of mind. It may, in fact, be 
asserted without exaggeration that the layman is more acutely sensitive 
to the problems of race in its physical and psychological aspects than 
he is to the details of primitive culture. 

To deal with Homo sapiens from the standpoint of race means to 
classify. This, as everyone knows, is easier said than done. Classifica 
tions of races have been undertaken from the most ancient times on, 
certainly since the days of Herodotus, and races are still being classified 
and reclassified. As a sample, this is what Boas writes in a little article, 
'The History of the American Race': 'Man had arisen from his animal 
ancestors. His upright posture, his large brain, the beginnings of ar 
ticulate and organized language and the use of tools mark the contrast 
between him and animals. Already differentiation of human types had 
set in./From an unknown ancestral type that may have been related to 
the Australoid type, two fundamentally distinct forms had developed 
the Negroid type and the Mongoloid type. The former spread all around 
the Indian Ocean; the latter found its habitat in northern and central 
Asia, and also reached Europe and the New World. The uniformity of 
these types ceased with their wide spread over the continents, and the 
isolation of small communities. Bushmen, Negroes, and Papuans mark 
some divergent developments of the one type; American Indians, East 
Asiatics, and Malays, some of the other. The development of varieties 
in each group showed similarities in all regions where the type oc 
curred. The races located on both sides of the Pacific Ocean exhibited 
the tendency to low pigmentation of skin, eyes and hair, to a strong 
development of the nose, and to a reduction of the size of the face. 

RACE 21 

Thus types like the Europeans, the Ainu of Japan and some Indian tribes 
of the Pacific coast, exhibit certain striking similarities in form. This 
tendency to parallel modification of the type indicates early relation 
ship.' 5 

This statement is helpful, in so far as it indicates the two contrasting 
physical groups which make up mankind: one, East Asiatic or Mon 
goloid to which the American Indian and the White are related; the 
other, African or Negro to which are related the Australian, partially 
the Melanesian, as well as the Negritos of the Philippines, Indo-China, 
and the Andaman Islands, the last three being pigmoid races. As a 
statement and as a fact this grouping is helpful, but we canriot go 
very far with it unless more detailed characterization of at least the 
major types of man physical has also been made. And it is precisely 
this that is so difficult. If there were some one physical trait on the 
basis of which a sufficient number of racial types could be differentiated, 
the situation would be only half bad. This, however, is not the case. 

If you take skin colour, a rather elusive trait except at extremes, 
it is easy enough to differentiate the Negro or Negroid from the Mon 
goloid, but further than this it is difficult to go with any degree of as 
surance. The White at his whitest can be easily enough distinguished 
from the Mongolian at his yellowest, but there are so many White peo 
ple with relatively dark complexions of a Mongoloid tint, that a dis 
tinction of the White race from the Mongolian, on the basis of this 
trait, can at best bring out only the extreme variants. Similarly, the 
Negro as a group is darker than the Australian as a group, but the 
overlapping is so marked that most Negroes could not be distinguished 
from most Australians by skin colour alone. Needless to say, the sub- 
racial groups are even less easily distinguishable on the ground of 
complexion. Some students have emphasized the whiteness of the White, 
as a racial trait, so strongly that they found it desirable to differentiate 
groups like the Hindu and Arab and some others, as a Brown race, thus 
separating it from the White. Now, whatever use there may be in this 
grouping from other standpoints, in point of complexion neither the 
Hindu nor the Arab can be satisfactorily distinguished from at least 
the Mediterranean branch of the White race, including such peoples as 
Italians, Greeks, and Spaniards. And so on with the rest. 

Or take hair. In one sense the texture and form of the hair might 
be regarded as a good racial trait, in so far as one race, the Negro, 
has frizzly or kinky hair, relatively thin and light in weight, whereas 
another, the Mongolian, has straight hair which is thick and very heavy. 

8 Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, vol. XXI, 1912, pp. 177-178, 


But here once more' the major usefulness of the differentiation comes 
to an end, The American Indian, who in other respects can be dif 
ferentiated from the Mongolian, is indistinguishable from him in the 
character of his hair: it is black and straight and thick and heavy and 
it grows long, if one lets it. The Negro and the Australian differ, in 
so far as the hair of the Australian is usually wavy. But in this very 
waviness of hair the Australians are like many Whites, and they are 
like the White race in general in the hairiness of their faces and bodies. 

In view of the impossibility of classifying the races on the basis of 
any one trait, anthropologists and comparative anatomists are in the 
habit of using a complex of traits as a basis of racial classification. Of 
the individual traits comprised in such a complex only a very few prove 
to be exclusively characteristic of any one race or of all of its members, 
but the complex as a whole serves the ends of classification well enough. 

It will suffice for our purposes if we classify on the basis of such a 
complex the following five representative racial types: the Negro, Aus 
tralian, Mongolian, American Indian, and White. Briefly, the group 
ing of typical traits in these five races is as follows. 

First the Negro: His complexion is dark, sometimes almost black. 
The hair is frizzly, often kinky, relatively sparse even on the head and 
definitely so on the face and body. The nose is thick and fleshy with 
moderately low back. The nostrils are large with a characteristic lateral 
spread along the surface of the face, whereas the septum of the nose 
extends slantingly from the tip of the nose to a point on the face some 
distance below the tip; this gives the Negro nose a moderately pug ap 
pearance and results in the partial visibility of the nostrils in front view 
(see Plate II). The lips of the Negro are large and fleshy, with an un 
usually large surface of externally visible mucous membrane. Thus 
they look as if they were partially turned inside out. A certain number 
of Negroes tend to be prognathic, meaning by this that their jaws pro 
trude: the upper and lower jaws meet at an obtuse angle. 

Second, the Australian: The complexion here also is dark, but not 
as dark as that of a Negro. The hair is usually wavy, ample on the head 
and exceedingly so on the face and body generally. The nose varies 
from a Negroid variety to one with a considerably more prominent 
back. Perhaps the most marked racial peculiarity of the Australian is 
the unusual development of the supra-orbital ridges, the bones which 
form the upper part of the skeletal frame of the eye and are situated 
right under the eyebrows. In addition to this, there seems to be a 
tendency for limbs to grow relatively long in relation to the length 
of the body; this applies especially to the legs, 





(Clark Wissler, American Indians of the Plains.} 

RACE 23 

Third, the Mongolian: The complexion is a sort of lightish brown, 
not very pure. The hair is black, straight, thick, and heavy. The hairi 
ness of the face and body is slight. (The cheek bones are prominent. 
The nose is flatter than that of the Negro but not so thick. The root 
of the nose, between the eyes, is thick and fatty, frequently without any 
elevation. This trait can often be observed on our own infants. The 
eye is alrnond-shaped, with thick eyelids, and is slanted from the nose 
upward, so that the corners of the eye near the nose are lower than the 
opposite corners. 

Fourth, the American Indian: In complexion there is here consid 
erable variability from a relatively dark brown, darker than the Mon 
golian variety, to a relatively light palish brown. The hair is character 
istically of the precise Mongolian type, black, straight, thick, and heavy, 
with slight hairiness of face and body. The nose is variable. The so-called 
classical Indian nose, with a very high bridge and convex, is very pro 
nounced and distinctive when it occurs, but it does not occur very often. 
In many regions of both American continents it is very rare or unknown. 
The cheek bones are high, not only the upper but frequently also the 
lower ones, which makes for a broad face; and as the face is also long, 
at least in many cases, the result is a large face, rather typical of the 
Indian, though of course not universal (Plate III). The Indian face 
has also been described as pentagonal (see Figs. 67 and 68, p. 191). 

Fifth and last, the White: This race is most difficult to characterize! 
for the reason of its extreme variability, a significant feature in the light 
of what was said a little while ago. In complexion, hair-form and hair- 
texture, eyes, nose, lips, shape of head and face, as well as size, there 
is here more variation, as between man and man, than in any other 
race, The complexion, nominally white, varies from the paleness of the 
northern Europeans, the so-called Nordics, to the relatively dark skin 
of the Mediterraneans as dark, let me repeat, as that of many Arabs 
and Hindus. The hair varies in colour from black through all shades 
of brown, from very dark brown to auburn, light brown, or blond, to 
the flaxen or very pale yellowish white of some Swedes and Dutchmen. 
The blond and some of the brown varieties of hair are occasionally 
tinged with red, which occurs in the form of the so-called Titian hair, a 
darkish golden red type, regarded by many as very attractive, to the 
pronounced red hair, 'like fire,' regarded by most people as very un 
attractive. In form the hair varies from straight, through all degrees 
of waviness, to almost kinky hair. Similarly, the eye varies from the 
very dark brown, almost black eye of the southern Europeans through 
all shades of dark and light brown, brownish grey, brownish green, and 


a large number of shades of blue, from dark blue to a very pale watery 
blue. Grey eyes, in different shades, though rare, are not unknown. The 
different varieties of blue eyes belong on the whole to the northern 
peoples of the White race, but are also known in more southern re 
gions. Again, the nose may be narrow or broad, with slight or very 
pronounced nostrils, with a low, moderate, or high bridge. It may be 
straight, convex in a variety of kinds, and concave. When the latter 
kind of nose is combined with a slanting septum, revealing the nostrils 
in front view, we have the pug nose. It may be noted at once that what 
is typical here are not so much the physical features themselves as their 
variability, to which may be added the general tendency towards low 
pigmentation, as revealed in complexion, colour of hair, and colour of 
eyes. This classification does not, of course, exhaust all the varieties of 
mankind, but let me only add that neither the Melanesian nor the 
Polynesian falls precisely into any of these groupings. However, the 
base of the Melanesian type is certainly Negroid, whereas that of the 
Polynesian is almost certainly White; but there are also Mongolian 
and probably Negroid components in the Polynesian, and perhaps non- 
Negroid ones in the Melanesian. 

Having thus settled the problem of racial classification, at least 
roughly, I shall add a few explanatory remarks with reference to a 
number of particular traits mentioned above. 

The colour of human hair is prevailingly dark or black. It is such 
among all the races except the White, and is also, of course, commonly 
such in the White race. The lighter varieties of hair are frequent only 
in middle and northern Europe or among peoples whose ancestors 
lived there, but they also occur, although not frequently, even among 
the extreme eastern Mediterraneans. Reddish hair has also been re 
ported among Polynesians, which is significant on account of their 
early affiliation with White ancestors. 

Straight hair is circular in cross section, which makes for greater 
rigidity and straightness. Curly hair is oval in cross section: the more 
flattened the oval, the greater the curliness. The hair of the Mongolian, 

6 Hooton here adds an interesting detail. He writes: 'U is very doubtful if hair 
form is modifiable by environment. "Naturally curly" hair becomes more curly in 
damp weather, but artificially curved hair straightens out when exposed to mois 
ture. "Permanent waving" of the hair is accomplished by twisting the hair and ap 
plying to it intense heat, while keeping the hair moist. Straightening of the hair is 
effected by ironing it out under moist heat. Apparently hair that is "permanently 
waved" is little affected by subsequent damp weather, but the wave is gradually 
lost as the hair grows out and is cut. Straightened hair becomes curved, however, 
as soon as the atmosphere gets humid. These considerations make it probable that 
there is some relationship between heat and moisture and curvature of the hair.' 

RACE 25 

in addition to being straight, is also heavy; according to Hooton, it is 
almost twice as heavy as a like volume of Negro hair, while that of 
the Whites is intermediate in weight. Among the Whites, the hair of 
the Nordics is the lightest in weight, that of the Alpines comes next, 
and the Mediterraneans have the heaviest hair. 

Complexion depends on the amount of granular pigment segre 
gated in the deeper layers of the epidermis. This pigment, called melanin 
or 'black substance,' consists of very dark brown or black granules, 
closely packed together within the cells if the granules are numerous, 
but sparsely set if the amount of melanin is small In accordance with 
the thickness of the pigment the skin appears yellowish, brown, or 
black. 7 

The nose, which plays, as we saw, an important part as a racial feature, 
can vary both in shape and in size, the former being more important as 
a racial trait. Hooton gives excellent characterizations of the Negro and 
Mongolian noses which may be quoted in full: 'The Negro nose par 
excellence has a slightly depressed root which is low and broad; the 
concave or straight bridge is of great breadth, and of low or medium 
height; the tip is thick and bulbous and turned upward; the wings are 
very thick and flaring, the nostrils round or with their long axes di 
rected transversely and frontally visible. The septum is thick and in 
clined upward, although viewed from the side it is convex. The whole 
nose is short and very broad at the tip and wings.' 8 Compared with 
this the Mongolian nose differs in that 'its root is much lower and not 
as broad, and is almost never depressed at nasion. . . . Often the Mon 
goloid nose shows practically no elevation of the root. The bridge is 
also much lower than that of the Negro and much narrower. The tip 
is not swollen and the wings are much thinner and less flaring. The 
nostrils are round or broadly oval and directed forward, the tip and 
septum elevated. The septum is thinner than that of the Negro and does 
not usually show a convexity. In profile the Mongoloid nose is strongly 
concave, whereas some Negro noses are slightly convex and many 
straight. 9 

Among the many and varied noses of the White race the one that has 

(E. A. Hooton, Up from the Ape, p. 437. By permission of The Macmillan Company, 

7 The blue birth-marks often seen on the skin of the sacral region in Mongoloids, 
and similar blue birth-marks found in various parts of the bodies of Europeans, are 
usually caused by large pigmented cells in the lower part of the true skin (dermis). 
The blue tinge is imparted by the brown pigment granules showing through the 
imperfectly transparent, superficial layers of the skin. (Ibid,, p, 442 ) 

Ibid., p. 429. 

& Ibid,, p. 430. 


aroused the greatest attention and comment is perhaps the so-called 
Semitic or^ Jewish nose which anthropologists prefer to call ArmenoidJ 
In describing this type of nose Hooton almost waxes dramatic, and so 
we may let him have his say once more: This nose is remarkable for 
its great length, great height, convexity, and depression of its thick 
tip. It is not a narrow nose, especially at its lower end, which shows 
heavy wings curving back so as to expose a large part of the inner 
wall of the nostrils. Very often this kind of nose has no depression 
either at nasion or below it, but continues the forehead slope without a 
dip, ending in a thick, rounded, and depressed tip with a concave and 
downward sloping septum. The eminence or hump in the bridge may 
be very marked or hardly perceptible, but the tip is almost invariably 
thickened and depressed and the wings coarse and recurved. This nose 
was found among the ancient Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Hit- 
tites, and Persians, and it is an inescapable feature of many Syrians, 
Armenians, Jews, Greeks, Turks, and other Levantine peoples of today. 
A modified form of this nose with a considerable refinement of the tip 
and wings occurs in the tall, brachycephalic Balkan group sometimes 
called the "Dinaric race." ' 10 This is the type of nose referred to be 
fore which also occurs among the Negroids of Oceania, the Melanesians 
and Papuans, and occasionally in Australia, combining, in these in 
stances, most of the characters of the Armenoid nose in exaggerated 
form. 11 

An additional word is due to the eye of the Mongolian before we 
close this topic. As already stated, in many cases but not universally, 
this eye is slanting from the nose upwards. What is notable here is that 
this peculiarity of the Mongolian eye is not due to any characteristics 
of the skull. Even in the slantest-eyed Mongolian, the skeletal position 
of the eye sockets is perfectly horizontal. The peculiarity, then, is due 
to the fatty and dermal tissues. Hooton distinguishes two varieties of the 
Mongolian eye. In the first, the fold of skin covers up the free edge of 
the upper eyelid from corner to corner, overhanging the inner corner 
and concealing the lachrymal duct. This type of fold is the complete 

pp. 431-432. 

11 As between the large-nostril! ed nose of the Negro and the nose of the northern 
inhabitants with its greatly reduced nasal aperture, Hooton refers to an interesting 
theory which is mentioned here for what it may be worth. The broad-noaed races 
who live in hot climates, it is thought, can breathe in great quantities of warm air 
without undue cooling of the respiratory organs. Among the northern peoples, on 
the other hand, with their narrow noses lined with thin mucous membrane, the air 
is warmed as it is breathed in, and is thus prevented from lowering the body tem 
perature. It is interesting in this connexion that the Eskimo has one of the nar 
rowest nasal apertures. 

RACE 27 

Mongoloid fold it does not represent the better known, because more 
peculiar form. In the second variety of fold the overhanging skin begins 
on the inner or medial part of the upper eyelid, covering the upper edge 
of the inner part and extending downward to conceal the lachrymal 
duct. It is in this case that the position of the eye acquires the slanting 
appearance, thus giving rise to the typical 'Mongolian eye.' 12 

Race Mixture. Much more important, practically and even theoreti 
cally, than to realize the differences between racial traits is to be aware 
of the fact that everywhere on earth racial distinctions have been sub 
jected and continue to be subjected to obliteration, recombination, or 
perhaps reconstitution, through the physical mixture of individuals 
representing these different types. I have already indicated that the 
very fact of an extraordinary variability in the White race points to an 
unusually varied ancestry. It is well known that such variability is char 
acteristic of domesticated when compared with wild animals, the do 
mesticated varieties being produced by the peculiarities of many arti 
ficial environments and the deliberate efforts of animal fanciers. It 
would, for example, be impossible to duplicate in nature 'in the raw' the 
enormous variability of the domesticated dog from the diminutive 
Spaniel and lap-dog to the enormous Dane, Newfoundland, and St. 
Bernard. It is in fact quite remarkable, as has been pointed out long 
ago by Eduard Hahn, that dog knows dog, however he may look and of 
whatever size or shape he may be. (Cf. p. 112, footnote 7.) The same, 
of course, is true in man, but on a less marked scale and with the re 
grettable difference that man seems to be less inclined to recognize 
his kind even though the contrast may not be so great. 

It does not require any extraordinary depth, acumen, or scholarship to 
realize how thoroughgoing and omnipresent has been the process of racial 
mixture. Man is a great traveller. Under pressure of climatic or human 

12 Before closing the description of the races let me draw attention here to a very 
important point made by Hooton, namely that the vast majority of the so-called 
racial traits are expressed in features which are, so far as one can see, of no sur 
vival value. In the nose, for example, the shape may possibly be of significance, as 
suggested above, but its size, however interesting aesthetically or otherwise, is an 
utterly indifferent matter in the struggle for existence. The same is true of shape of 
eye, head-form, the character of the jaw, the colour, texture or form of the hair, 
and so on through a large number of traits. In other words, from the standpoint of 
human biology in relation to its geography, these differences may be regarded as 
playful variations. They are what they are, but might also have been quite different, 
without in either case being of any serious biological significance. Hypothetically at 
least, this state of affairs may be taken as symptomatic of what might be true in 
the psychological sphere also. If there are any differences here which in any sense 
can be regarded as racial, perhaps these also fall into the field of playful variants : 
nothing that really counts, merely something that differs. 


factors, in quest of richer harvests or an easier life, or just following that 
blind urge for adventure which may be regarded as the geographical ex 
pression of human imagination, people have always moved about, in 
smaller or larger groups, for short or for long distances. In the course 
of these wanderings and dislocations they have been coming in contact 
with groups of men somewhat differently shaped or coloured, and with 
them they have mated. The early Malays crossed the outskirts of an 
enormous continent to find themselves far from their East Asiatic home 
on the edge of South Africa, where a very different nature and a very 
different type of man were awaiting them. Before the present pacifism 
of the Chinese was born, the Mongolian inhabitants of China moved 
in repeated militant thrusts in a southerly direction, finding there other 
peoples who, though Mongolian, were of a different sub-variety. The 
entire development of the Negro tribes of northern Africa has been af 
fected by Mongolian and other West Asiatic invasions, long before the 
'civilized' Europeans discovered the home of the Negro as something 
worthy of exploration, annexation, and exploitation. When the Arabs 
embraced the Mohammedan creed in the seventh century A.D. and car 
ried the new message along the broad strips of northern Africa, they 
mixed with the native Negroes, and when early in the eighth century 
they crossed into Spain, they brought to Europe not only science, phi 
losophy, medicine, and art, but also Negro blood. These Arabs, in the 
course of several centuries, intermarried with native Europeans. Among 
the Arabs were many Jews who themselves had been touched by Negro 
blood and had interbred with the Arabs; so there was a Negro strain 
in them also. During the residence of the Arabs in Spain, and later after 
the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, Negro strains were communi 
cated to other Europeans through both these sources. After the dis 
covery of America, 'blood mixture' on a large scale proceeded between 
the White settlers and the Indians. Later in the seventeenth and eight 
eenth centuries, during the period of the slave trade, Negroes were im 
ported to America who mixed with the Whites as well as with the In 
dians. And the offspring of the Whites who had already mixed with 
Indians, now mixed with the Negroes. Nor was the Indian the only source 
through which Mongolian blood penetrated into the domain of the 
White race. The early history of Russia, or the country north of the 
ancient Pontus or Black Sea which was to become Russia, tells of never 
ending streams of Mongolian invaders. In the middle of the first mil 
lennium B.C., and then again a thousand years later, they came in ir 
resistible waves, until in the thirteenth century, under the mighty Genghis 
Khan and his successor Batu, the Mongolians subjugated the entire 

RACE 29 

plain of European Russia and then clung to its edges, to mix with the 
White race, for a period of two and a half centuries, transforming into 
Mongolian likeness not only the Alpine or Alpinoid Russian population 
of the south, but even the Jews of that region, who to this day can be 
readily recognized as the carriers of Mongolian strains. And the mixture 
continues. In Madagascar the Mongoloid Malay has mixed with the 
Negro and the Negroid, and here also both have mixed with the White. 
How in the face of all these facts, which as here presented are but 
a sample of the real story, the idea of racial purity can continue to 
persist in the minds ol men, is a fact that nothing can explain except 
the blind stubbornness of dogma backed by prejudice. Pure race was 
once a fact, but this was long, long ago. Then it became a myth. Of 
late the myth has been turning into a nightmare, and the time is more 
than ripe for man to wake up and realize where he stands or who he is. 
Race, Language, and Culture. The association of a physical type with a 
particular language and a special kind of culture is not altogether a 
fiction. In the case of the Eskimo, for example, we find an instance of a 
people with somewhat marked physical characteristics, plausibly due to 
inbreeding, who speak a number of languages which, though differ 
entiated, have numerous characteristics in common, and possess a 
culture which in the midst of minor differences reveals many basic 
similarities. The case of the Eskimo, however, is instructive because 
fairly unique and certainly exceptional. The remote and forbidding 
environment does not invite intrusion, and is almost prohibitive of 
permanent or protracted residence for anyone but the Eskimo them 
selves. Such is not the case in most other regions of the globe. /Under 
normal conditions physical type, language, and culture possess mobili 
ties of their own. Each changes, but not under the same conditions nor 
at the same rate. Physical type can, of course, only be affected by an 
other physical type when actual mating takes place; mere spatial co 
existence does not suffice here. Language, though more stubborn in its 
passage from one group to another than is generally supposed, will be 
come seriously modified when two or more groups coexist in the same 
locality for any length of time. This can be illustrated in all so-called 
marginal areas. The citizens of Alsace and Lorraine, for example, are 
linguistically as French as they are German; whereas those of Switzer 
land, itself a marginal area to Germany, France, and Italy, converse 
glibly in all three languages, mixing them up on occasion. The Finns, a 
Mongolian tribe with a Uro-AHaic language and possessing in modern 
days a culture almost completely Scandinavian, have during the eight 
eenth and nineteenth centuries absorbed the Russian language, but very 


little of Russian culture. The Mongolian Magyars of Hungary, through 
prolonged intermarriage with Mid-Europeans, have lost many of their 
Mongolian features; they have also absorbed the culture of Middle 
Europe, Germanic in its essential traits. To be sure, the majority of 
Hungarians also know German, but they have preserved the Hungarian 
language, which happens to be related to that of the Finns. The Ameri 
can Negro, after his forced transportation from Africa, has remained a 
Negro physically even though not without marked modifications in type, 
but his languages and cultures have vanished, except for a few disjointed 
fragments. Culturally and linguistically the Negro is an American. 
The peoples on the two sides of the Rhine, those of southern Germany 
and northern France, though differing in language and culture, represent 
the same Alpine physical type. And so it goes in innumerable other 

In view of all this, it is most important to separate these three do 
mains in our investigations and discussions. A classification of peoples 
from the standpoint of language need not have any meaning culturally, 
and certainly has no meaning physically. A classification from the 
standpoint of physical type is equally without bearing on either culture 
or language. The point here made, though theoretically obvious and 
from this standpoint scarcely deserving emphasis, is nevertheless worth 
making for the reason that we are so prone to endow linguistic group 
ings with cultural significance and to ascribe cultural complexes, such 
as those of nations, to the influence of racial or sub-racial qualities. As a 
preamble to the discussion of the psychology of race it is therefore 
worth our while to comment briefly upon our habits of thought with 
reference to so-called national characteristics. 

The Russians of the nineteenth century were regarded as intelligent, 
temperamental, unreliable, great linguists. It was also thought that 
somehow Asiatic and European traits were combined in their national 
psychology: scratch a Russian, it was said, and you will find a Tartar. 
Now, apart from obvious inaccuracies and equally patent exaggerations, 
the general picture as just given is a fairly true one, in so far as certain 
groups of nineteenth-century Russia are concerned. What is at fault is 
the accompanying interpretation: once a Russian always a Russian. 
These traits were, on the contrary, the expression of an historic past and 
a cultural status quo. Even the notorious linguistic capabilities of Rus 
sians can be readily explained away by the simple fact that in the 
Russian nobility and upper middle class children were brought up 
under the guidance of foreign tutors, German, French, and English, and 
thus imbibed these languages early in life. Those who have listened to 

RACE 31 

the French or English conversation of those Russians who had learned 
these tongues in later years and under less favourable conditions, soon 
enough disabused themselves of any illusions as to the linguistic ability 
of the Russian stock. And finally, how many of the old Russian traits 
still survive in the U.S.S.R., or will be recognizable another generation 

The same is true of Germany. The Germans of the end of the eight 
eenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth were romantic, philo 
sophical, sentimental, chummy (gemutlich) and, on the whole, pacific. 
The change came with the rise of Prussia, the consolidation of Germany 
after the Franco-Prussian War, and the forced moulding of German 
character into a nation of dogmatic, pedantic, goose-stepping, and po 
tentially militaristic citizens. The transformation has occurred under 
our very eyes, as it were. It is the more illuminating and instructive, I 
might add, perhaps overoptimistically, as what has happened in one 
direction may happen again, in another. 

The French are noted for their logical precision and what is called 
\esprit, a peculiar sparkling sort of intelligence not unrelated to wit. 
The French, however, did not possess these qualities in the days of 
Caesar. In his comments on their ancient forebears and he was a 
shrewd observer and a trenchant writer we hear nothing of logical 
precision or any particular intellectual sparkle. We know, on the other 
hand, how the remarkable development of philosophy and science and 
literature in seventeenth- and eighteenth- century France resulted in a 
new form of culture and mental orientation. This, combined with the 
elaborate court life in the era from Louis XIV to the beginning of the 
nineteenth century, gave the 'French mind' those qualities of mental 
precision and articulatory grace which in more recent days have been 
justly placed in the centre of French culture. 

Similarly, when Napoleon designated the English as c a nation of shop 
keepers' he was combining a highly one-sided selection of a trait with 
the subjective colouration rooted in his hatred of the English well- 
founded, in the light of his personal history. But it would be no more 
justifiable to identify his characterization with English character than 
to regard as significant the singling out of the 'man of property' in 
Galsworthy's Forsyte Saga. What I am trying to convey is not that these 
characterizations are necessarily untrue some of them may be pro 
foundly true but that they are worthless if extended beyond a given 
time and place, and that in any case they have no relation whatsoever 
to the biological inheritance of the group. 

Mental Characteristics of the Races. When it comes to the psychology 


of race I always think of the apochryphal volume on Iceland in which 
there was a chapter on snakes. It opened like this: There are no snakes 
in Iceland,' and there it also closed. As I have already repeatedly stated, 
to the anthropologist race physical is a special and technical pursuit. 
In his studies of primitive culture he is accustomed to disregard it. The 
same is true of race psychological. We do not find in anthropological 
field work any of those captions under which racial psychology is dealt 
with so glibly in the books of innocent laymen or less innocent race 
mythologists. We hear nothing of the stolidity of the American Indian, 
or the reserve of the Mongolian, or the emotional instability of the 
Negro, any more than we do of the hysterical emotional make-up of the 
'savage' or the improvidence of the primitive. What the anthropologist 
finds is man to whom nothing human is foreign: all the fundamental 
traits of the psychic make-up of man anywhere are present everywhere, 
The basic differences between the shrewd and intelligent, on the one 
hand, and the stupid and gullible, on the other, with all the intervening 
gradations, confront the student of human culture, and in particular the 
anthropologist, everywhere he goes. Nor is he the only one to draw the 
distinction; the people observed by him draw it too, and often they 
draw it for him. 

Similarly, man's proclivity to religious emotion and his artistic im 
pulse are found in every tribe. In this case also men, primitive or mod 
ern, are strictly comparable. But here further application brings out 
the fact that not any man can be a shaman, nor can any man or woman 
draw, paint, carve, or embroider as well as any other. On the contrary, 
ability is there, it counts, and it is differential. Wherever man is found 
we know there is society, a social organization, a form of leadership^ 
The edicts of society become dogma, they are enforced by special pres 
sure and protected by penalization, and the official representatives of 
social authority (or even the self -named despots) are, by and large, 
everywhere individuals with a certain practical knowledge of people, 
an ability to control them, a capacity to rise to an occasion, a certain 
poise in crucial situations, arid so on. 

Everywhere, again, man invents. He combines and recombines old 
things and ideas into new ones, and he applies them in such a way that 
they work in a material and stubborn world. Again and again, we shall 
see in the course of our investigation how significant in the history of 
civilization were just the early basic inventions, many of which still 
survive, notwithstanding the enormous overlay contributed by human 
originality or shrewdness in later periods. Quite as in the case of racial 
prejudice within the modern world itself, contradictory qualities are 

RACE 33 

wont to be ascribed to the primitive with the greatest ease. For example, 
he is characterized, even by sc-me of those who might know better, as an 
inveterate supernaturalist, addicted to ideas charged with emotion and 
incapable of putting two and two together because, we are told, two to 
him is not 'two' but something else, probably mystical and intangible. 
On the other hand, we also hear that the 'savage 5 is incurably practical, 
that he does not do anything but what he must or needs to do, that even 
his religion is dominated by the needs of the morrow or the day, that 
fundamentally he is most unimaginative: he cannot see beyond his nose 
and this he takes for something else. Characterizations such as this 
are worse than wrong: they are half-true in the vicious sense of losing 
the half-truth each contains through a blind spot with reference to the 
other half. The primitive must live. The protective armour of his culture 
is not as proof against accident or misfortune as is that of ours( The 
pressure, therefore, of daily tasks and needs is enormous. In this sense, 
the primitive is and must be practical : he attends to the business of liv 
ing. But also, he has imagination. He transcends the day and the morrow 
and the needs of the body, in the name of ideas, faiths, the enjoyment of 
fancy or of play. From this standpoint it is unfortunate that the study of 
primitive languages is so technical and difficult a task. The idea is still 
prevalent among the laity that just as the primitive is only half a man, 
so his language is only half a language. How far from the truth this is! 
The languages of the primitives are elaborate mechanisms, comprising 
ample vocabularies and complex grammatical structures) in which the 
unconscious capacity of man for the formation of what one might call 
organic concepts and categories is as conspicuous as in any grammar 
or language. Not only can the primitives use their languages but these, 
in their case, represent culture, life, the entire mental content. The at 
tritions and simplifications which have reduced our own day-by-day 
talk to a mere skeleton, if a dynamic one, have as yet not set in. It is for 
this reason that the language of primitive^, like that of peasants, over 
flows with rich and picturesque content. ! It holds and gives forth not 
only the framework of a culture but all of its overtones and shadings. It 
abounds in proverbs, where these prevail, and popular sayings in which 
the observations and shrewdness or the prejudices and foibles of the 
people are expressed. It possesses all the flexibility of a tool constantly 
put to many and varied uses. It can be said, with probability, that 
if a primitive visitor could encompass the real nature of our conver 
sational language, the day-by-day words and phrases of bur Western 
civilization, he would be prompted to puzzlement or even contempt. 
What kind of people are these, he might exclaim, who cannot even talk ! 


We constantly forget that the achievements of what we call 'our' civiliza 
tion are peaks attained by a few, for which the vast majority of us are 
not and could not be responsible, and which this majority cannot under 
stand, frequently being ignorant even of their very existence. 

The honest psychologist of race can glean nothing from the com 
parative study of brains. How much do we know about brains anyway, 
or their precise relation to mentality in particular and to psychic life 
in general? Whatever evidence there is certainly indicates that there is 
room for all human wisdom and all human foolishness within a wide 
range of brain size, weight, and structure. Beyond this, what we know as 
to what a brain can do is always ex post facto : the only convincing and 
unanswerable proof is performance. When it has done it, we know it can 
do it. The obvious inference from this is that we do not know what a 
given brain or a given set of brains, such as that comprised in the heads 
of a primitive tribe, could and might do in a different setting. 

Consider this: The development of White man's civilization, our 
Western culture, is not, as one might at first think, a series of events 
that have recurred again and again, 50 that one might say: at any place 
or time when a group of the White race tackled civilization it pulled it 
up to heights beyond the reach of others. Nothing of the sort! In the 
course of a few thousands of years the development of this civilization 
has been so continuous not from year to year or century to century 
necessarily, but from thing to thing and from idea to idea that the en 
tire story is really merely an elaborate statement of one historic phe 
nomenon or 'event,' in the broadest sense. White man in his progress has 
never been out of reach of other White men before him to tack on tq[i 

This is one thing, and then there is the other: How old really is this 
civilization of ours?|We like to trace it back to the Greeks. This is, of 
course, subjective and inaccurate, but suppose we take the Greeks. Two 
of the outstanding achievements > of modern civilization, which by its 
own proclamation belong to its very essence, are science and technology. 
Now science, as we understand it, was as non-existent among the Greeks 
as it could well be among a people so enamoured with intellectual en 
deavour. They knew little about experiment and nothing about measure 
ment, nor were they either able or willing to divest scientific terms and 
concepts of the baggage of mysticism and aestheticism which barred the 
way to further achievement. As to technology, they were about on the 
level of the smallest modern country town, however 'one by two.' The 
technical, mechanical, or power phase of modern civilization would have 
surprised Aristotle or Hippocrates as much as it would have surprised 
Howitt's Australian chieftain or a magic-working shaman of eastern 

RACE 35 

Siberia. When Marco Polo visited China, in the second half of the thir 
teenth century, and communed with Kublai Khan Marco Polo, in 
cidentally, being not the first "but the third European visitor to these 
lands during that century, the first two having been Franciscan monks- 
he found and heard things there which kept him in constant amazement. 
It is said that he brought Christianity to the Chinese, which it seems they 
were not in a hurry to accept; but he brought back philosophic doctrines, 
technical knowledge, and a vision of policy and statecraft which Europe 
was only too eager to grasp and make its own. To the Chinese of those 
days, if they only had gone out of their way to know our ancestors and 
had been as prejudiced then as we are today, these ancestors of ours 
would have appeared as little more than pale-faced weaker brothers, as 
much behind in civilization as their washed-out countenances stood be 
low the Mongolian standards of beauty. 

When one considers our persistent inability to draw inferences from 
historic examples, he almost despairs of the ultimate victory of rational 
ity which, in our racial pride, we claim to have already achieved. Think 
ing back only a little, we find ourselves holding the same supercilious 
and contemptuous notions about the Japanese that are still prevalent 
among us about the Chinese. What x is it that so suddenly brought about a 
change of attitude towards these easternmost representatives of the 
Asiatic Mongolians? Merely this. When the Japanese threw open their 
harbours to American and European commerce, or when Commodore 
Perry threw them open for them, they seized upon the advantages of 
Western civilization with a zest and effectiveness which must have proved 
no less surprising to thoughtful Japanese than it did to us. The result 
was that they learned Western commerce; in its wake came industries, 
industries engendered science, and the national consciousness of having 
become an active participant in this heretofore foreign world of the 
Western nations stimulated thought about national grandeur and de 
fence a very appropriate thought under the conditions. Presently Japan 
became a power amongst other powers. Still its status, it must be ad 
mitted, remained a lowly one until 1905; then it went up with flying 
colours, after the war with Russia, whose badly equipped and worse led 
legions had by that time acquired a European reputation of invincibility. 
Only then did the cloak of prejudice fall. It is not necessary to ask here 
whether China would have to undergo a similar transformation to gain 
that objective or receive that reward. The point is that the history of 
China certainly represents a much more impressive picture of cultural 
achievement than did that of Japan before its opening to Western in 
fluence. Still the average American continues to think about the Chinese 


as if they were a nation of coolies. Even our outstanding philosopher 
could not find it in him to say anything better about the Chinese than 
that under favourable conditions they might successfully learn from us. 
Fortunately for our self-respect, another outstanding philosopher, from 
across the seas, insists rather emphatically that there are a number of 
things that we might learn from the Chinese. 

As one becomes immersed in the study of racial psychology, one comes 
to realize that the significant factor involved is not by any means the psy 
chic differences of the races, but rather the psychic unily of man, a 
rather discouraging aspect of that psychic unity. What counts and de 
mands attention is not the problematic difference in racial ability but the 
disability of the genus Homo, however sapiens, to think intelligently and 
without prejudice in this field, so heavily charged with emotion, vanity, 
special pleading, and still lowlier affects. 

Chapter III 

Animal Mind 

As it is impossible here to review what is known about the so-called 
mentality of the different varieties of animals, a few examples will 
suffice. There lived once a famous horse, Der kluge Hans (the intelligent 
Hans), an unusually bright equine, resident in Berlin, which acquired 
the reputation of being able to solve simple mathematical problems in ad 
dition and multiplication. It would be asked how much is 2 times 4 or 12 
and 13, and it would give the correct answer by striking the ground with 
one of its fore hoofs. Hans promptly became famous and acquired wide 
publicity, until a young psychologist, Dr. Pfungst, undertook to examine 
the case more carefully. First suspicion fell on the trainer, who was sub 
sequently found to be perfectly innocent and above board. Having once 
trained his Hans, he now did nothing to assist him nothing, that is, he 
knew of. Whenever Hans was performing, though, the trainer was right 
there, standing in front of the horse. So Dr. Pfungst invited him to retire; 
and presently, Hans's mathematical talent retired with him: the horse was 
no longer able to give the correct answers. Further investigation revealed 
the fact that Hans was guided by slight and, of course, unconscious auto- 
malic movements in the face of the trainer, which gave the horse a clue 
as to the precise moment at which it should stop striking the ground with 
its hoof. Now, there are horses and horses; among equines as among hu 
mans some are bright, others dumbbells. Evidently Hans was an intelli 
gent horse, but its achievement was after all within the range of horse 
sense. If, on the other hand, Hans had actually possessed the ability to per 
form additions and multiplications, there would have been no reason why, 
with further application, he or some other equally gifted equine could 
not reach the stage of handling calculus and the like. Apparently there 
are no such horses. Hans's performance then still lies within the range of 
reactions guided by sense impressions, in this case minute ones, the dis 
cernment and utilization of which require a bright mind, for a horse. 

Then we have the fascinating study by Wolfgang Koehler, The Men 
tality of Apes. The author spent large stretches of several years on a 

. 37 


banana plantation on Teneriffe (Canary Islands) where he had ample 
opportunity to study chimpanzees both in the wild and under controlled 
conditions. What he reports are experiments like this. A chimpanzee 
placed in a cage was supplied with three boxes, light enough for him to 
handle and arrange at will. Under the roof of the cage and out of reach 
of the chimpanzee, even when standing on top of the boxes, except in a 
certain arrangement, a banana was placed. The latter fact was promptly 
noted by the Anthropoid. For a long time, however, it made no deliberate 
or reasoned effort to reach the banana. It kept on playing with the boxes, 
after the fashion of its kind. Presently it happened that it placed them 
one on top of the other, which brought it near the banana, but not quite 
near enough. Upon descending to the foot of the pyramid, the chimpan 
zee was now visibly disturbed. For a while it sat there looking at the 
boxes. What it may have thought no one, of course, can tell, but Koehler's 
hunch about its mental content is expressed in the sentence, 'There is 
something about those boxes!' In due time, in the course of its manipu 
lations, the chimpanzee did manage to put them together in the right way. 
Then in an instant it swung itself to the top and grabbed the banana. Af 
ter repeating this operation a number of times the ape learned to per 
form it without difficulty or hesitation. 

Another instance : This time the banana was placed on the ground out 
side the cage and the chimpanzee in the cage was supplied with two 
sticks, neither of which was long enough to enable it to reach the banana 
by extending the stick between the bars of the cage and pulling it within 
reach. This chimpanzee had already learned to reach a banana by 
means of one stick long enough for the purpose. Now, the shorter sticks 
were made in such a way that they could be fitted together end to end. 
Again the chimpanzee went through the appearance of longing and 
despair at seeing the banana it could not reach. Once more, it engaged 
in a prolonged manipulation of the sticks, without any apparent refer 
ence to the banana and without any discernible interest. Presently, how 
ever, it happened that the two sticks placed end to end in the right po 
sition fitted together, thus forming one long stick. In an instant the 
chimpanzee stuck the new tool through the bars, pushed the banana 
towards the cage, grabbed and ate it (in very human fashion) . This per 
formance was repeated with ease ever after. 

In both of these instances it will be seen that the chimpanzee appar 
ently is incapable of visualizing a fairly complex situation and taking 
stock of its equipment, in order to figure out in advance the acts neces 
sary to reach the goal. Once the necessary arrangement is brought about 
by accident, however, it has ample capacity to discern the fitness of the 


situation, to make the best of it with alacrity, and reproduce it on all 
future occasions. The chimpanzee's performance, it will be seen, places 
it on a higher plane of mentality than that of poor clever Hans. As to 
figuring things out, that is, first imagining then reproducing a situation 
on the basis of mere 'indicators' in preceding experience, the chimpanzee 
itself has still far to go. 

Perhaps these instances will suffice to indicate that the limitation of 
the animal mind seems to lie in its incapacity, or more limited capacity, 
to think in abstract terms or, for short, to think. In a broader perspec 
tive, again, it is of course obvious that the difference between the men 
tality here displayed and that of man is merely one of degree. 

Human Mind 

In point of sheer psychology, mind as such, man is after all no more 
than a talented animal. The mind of the infant, as it enters the world, is 
not a fact it is a potentiality. What this potentiality means we discover 
in the unfoldment of capacity which soon transcends that of any animal. 
But at that first fateful moment, ushered in by the baby's first cry, and 
for some time later, there is as yet no evidence of humanity. 

More than this. In spite of all the enormous labour expended on the 
study of nerve tissue in general and the brain in particular, it would be 
quite impossible for us to determine by an advance examination, outside 
or inside, what the youngster was about to unfold into, not only as a par 
ticular individual but even as just a human rather than a mere animal. 
On the other hand, we do know from some few experiences that away 
from a human setting the potentiality of the baby would be wasted it 
would grow up just an animal. The agency which transforms the po 
tential human that has just entered the world into the human of later 
days, is applied to it very early, and it keeps on being applied for a long 
time to come. That agency is culture, and the method of its application 
is education. 

We know then that there is culture and that it comes to man in the proc 
ess of education. But even this is not enough for an exact understanding 
of what it is that happens here. One of the differences between what oc 
curs in the case of any animal, on the one hand, and in that of man, on 
the other, is the rate at which they grow up. With variations as between 
animal and animal, their young mature very fast. It is a matter of mere 
months. So fast do they mature that were there much for them to learn 
and had they the ability to do so, they could not, on account of the very 
shortness of the period separating birth from relative maturity. Then 


life's problems, with their categorical demands and dangers, must be 
met if life is to continue. Fortunately for the animal, its life is planned 
differently. It is equipped by nature with a large assortment of instincts 
or reaction complexes which make their appearance almost ready for ac 
tion and develop perfect 'form' after relatively few individual experi 
ences. These instinctive reactions constitute its answers to the problems 
of life. Being equipped with these answers, or nearly so, by its psycho- 
physical constitution, the animal has very little to learn. What it needs 
to know for its own purposes it almost knows already. 

The factor in human life, on the other hand, which makes acquisition 
of vast knowledge and the accumulation of experience possible for the 
young, is the so-called prolongation of infancy in man. Before man be 
comes a man, he is a baby, a child, an adolescent, for a considerable 
number of years during which most of his time is absorbed in one or an 
other form of learning. To this he can devote himself with impunity be 
cause during these years his life is guarded. The baby or child does not 
have to pay the consequences of its errors, and is prevented from com 
mitting too grievous ones, by the presence of adults. The carefully cir 
cumscribed artificial conditions in which it is placed prevent it from 
putting a premature conclusion to its life through not knowing what it 
was all about. This factor in human life, once emphasized by the Ameri 
can historian and Spencerian disciple, John Fiske, is next to human 
psychic quality perhaps the most significant agency in the making of 

Let us then rejoin the baby at its first moment of overt existence, and 
see what happens. During the first few weeks of its life it learns but little. 
Nursing is a process common to all mammals, and the baby's adjust 
ment to it is usually rapid and wholly satisfactory. A few weeks later, 
after the sensory reactions have become properly allocated and defined, 
the baby begins to explore, not with the nose or ears or even eyes at 
first, but largely with the hands, often assisted by the mouth. It must 
be remembered that the baby's initial contact with the world, as some 
thing valuable and interesting, comes through touch and taste in the 
process of nursing. This conditions the direction taken by its earliest 
explorations of the rest of me world. It explores itself, its own body, 
for which operation it has unusual facilities. On account of the great 
flexibility of its limbs, it can readily cover this itinerary which ac 
quaints it with all but a few parts of its body. Even later, when this has 
been accomplished, its tactual and manipulatory propensities persist. 
At the age of one and later the baby, though now adequately guided 
by its eyes as to what to tackle, continues to explore primarily by its 


hands, still ably assisted by the mouth. Thus it learns to know the world, 
develops a feel of it. And as I said before, in doing this it is not dis 
turbed or checked in its tracks by the intrusion of demanding and men 
acing nature. Its efforts are restrained by the crib or the play pen, or 
the nursery, or the house, and should it be in the open, there is someone 
there to watch it or should be. 1 

Now long before this process of a personal and direct acquaintance 
with the world has gone very far, it is supplemented by another and, 
humanly speaking, even more typical and significant process. The baby 
learns not only from its contact with nature but also from its contact 
with its mother or whatever other individuals are in its vicinity. In addi 
tion to checking it when it plays with a knife or is about to jump out of 
a window, the mother initiates that process (which once begun does not 
stop for a long time) of acquainting the baby not with the world of 
things merely but with that of humans. This is culture. It is there when 
the baby arrives, just as the world of natural things is there. It is not 
something that comes from the baby; it goes forth towards it. Moreover, 
the baby must take it and, whatever its nature, it does; meaning by this 
that any kind of culture, ^ithi. very broad limits, is acceptable to the 
baby. This is the basic fact of cultural absorption to which all the later 
emotions and rationalizations and standardizations become attached. 
The baby comes into the world without culture. It takes it where it finds 
it, and what it takes depends on what there is to be taken. At this junc 
ture, let us leave the baby once more. 

I said that what the baby takes is what is there to be taken. Now how 
did it come there in the first place? The culture that exists at any given 
time and place has come from the past. It is the result of accumulation 
of things, attitudes, ideas, knowledge, error, prejudice. And the method 
by which this cultural baggage has been communicated and passed on 
through the generations is first that of sheer persistence, which refers 
especially to material things, and second that of verbal communication, 
which refers to all else, including material things also. 

From this angle, the major role of language is that of a culture- 
carrier, and among primitives where written language does not exist, it 
is the spoken word that performs this function. Next to the prolonged 
infancy of man, the culture-bearing function of language is the most im 
portant fact in the making of humanity. The primitive knows what he 

1 How thoroughly we are adjusted to this feeling of the dependence of a baby on 
a protective agency can be gathered from that vague sense of uneasiness, a sort of 
undefined fear for the baby, which seizes an adult when he sees it alone and unpro 
tected by a fence or a guardian. 


knows and thinks what he thinks, in the first place, because he was told 
so by others. The situation is really not different in modern conditions 
with reference to that initial baggage that comes to a person in the early 

Before man begins to learn from anything written or printed, he is al 
ready more than half-formed by the things he has heard and absorbed. 
In this early contact of the adult world with the world of the child two 
other factors play a part; these come to be of vast significance in society 
and in the life of the adult. One is the presence of checks and penalties, 
if only verbal ones. Not being cultured, the baby naturally does most 
things wrong; that is, it does them differently from the way they are 'be 
ing done' in a given society. Here 'the mother' steps in and not only 
teaches it, or tells it what to do, but also and primarily checks it when it 
does what should not be done. More often than not, the baby goes where 
it should not go, for example, into the neighbourhood of the stove or 
into father's study. It is told and checked and scolded, upon transgres 
sion. When it begins to talk, no sooner has it learned to say things at all 
than it begins to say what it should not say. Once more it is told, checked, 
and reprimanded. The same is true of the numerous techniques it is 
gradually made to acquire, such as first letting itself be dressed, then 
dressing itself, then eating, then washing. We take these things in so 
matter-of-fact a way, take them for granted as it were, because they are 
so common and trite and infinitely repetitious. But how really significant 
they are will be gathered by anyone with a spark of imagination who 
will try to visualize what a baby might do at a family meal had it never 
learned either by imitation or by precept how to do what others are 
doing., Now this process of being told what to do, being checked when 
one does the wrong thing, and being penalized for doing it, is a proto 
type of a vast and all-important range of social life. All human insti 
tutions, whether the family, or religion, or law, or politics, centre in it. 

Another process is this: after the baby has acquired a certain linguis 
tic facility, it begins to concentrate its efforts on the articulation of one 
little word, 'Why?' Why, indeed? The 'why' of most things and acts and 
customs is neither apparent nor simple nor, in most instances, known. 
Still the brat wants to know 'why,' and if the next 'why' is to be side 
tracked some answer must be forthcoming to satisfy the baby. In answer 
ing these questions 'the mother' still using her as a symbol for the 
social world as educator accepts the status quo as certain and im 
peccable. It is in its light that she answers the baby's queries. Do this be 
cause a hunter does it, or a warrior, or a chief, or a medicine-man. Do 
that because it is what mother does, or father, in fact, 'all our people al 


ways did it and you must do it also.' And finally, do this because it is 
good and if you do it you will be good; do not do that because it is bad 
and you will be bad if you do it. Now let us state categorically right here 
that the youthful inquirer is not to be blamed for interposing another 
'Why?' after these explanations have been given. All of them, it will be 
readily conceded, are merely ways of shirking the real answers which, 
should anyone try to give them, could not be given because one does not 
know. And so the educator makes out as good a case as he or she can for 
the status quo, by hallowing it with tradition, or by misrepresenting it 
by means of verbal embellishments, or by rationalizing it through mak 
ing it seem reasonable, whereas in fact it merely is what it is. 

Now this last educational device is particularly characteristic of mod 
ern society, much given to rationality, but much more so to rationali 
zation. We are rational in some things but we try to make ourselves out 
to be rational in all things. The amount! of human effort expended in 
providing rational grounds for fundamentally perfectly indifferent acts, 
ideas and attitudes, is stupendous, and the educational process is both 
the primary source and the major field of application of that effort. This 
is also the basic root of the difference, no matter what the culture, be 
tween what people think or say they are and what they actually are, 
between professions and performance, ideals and actuality. The range of 
culture designated by the term 'morals,' the sum-total of the standards 
of behaviour within a given group, is an in-between thing. At one end 
are the ideals and standards, at the other, the behaviours; in between 
is the moral code which exerts a constant pull on the behaviours in the 
direction of the standards. 

And now another point. In this inevitably reasoned presentation, the 
process here analyzed appears as a sort of deliberate give and take, overt 
and rational. This, however, is very far from being the case. The 'mother' 
uses her educational technique and the baby submits to it, or does 
not, very much as a craftsman uses his tool and the material yields or 
resists. In this process the craftsman is almost as non-deliberate and 
unthinking as is the tool or the material. The process is largely auto 
matic, at least semi-mechanical, and when pulled into consciousness 
the overt explanation of it is usually wrong, that is, it does not repre 
sent with any degree of accuracy what is actually taking place. 

The same in education. The mother educates as she cooks. She says 
and does what other mothers said and did, her own mother when she 
was a baby, just as the cook follows established recipes and standardized 
processes. And the baby responds to the educational mechanism very 
much as a steak does to the efforts of the cook. It does not know what 


it is doing, and when it has acquired or learned something, it does not 
really know what it has learned or how, unless it should be puzzled by 
what it is doing and this is not the way of babies, or of adults, for 
that matter. 

When we say that the acquisition of the cultural baggage by the child 
is an unconscious process, this statement should not be understood as 
saying that the child is like unto a block of wood on which the educa 
tional process makes dents. What is meant is that the whole procedure 
is so constant, so habitual, and on the whole so uninteresting, that it 
finds its way into the habits of the child without its becoming aware 
of what is really occurring. It must be realized that what we receive in 
education is always mere end-points of things or processes, as they 
happen to be at a given time and place. 

Now all these things and acts are complex, they have their antecedents 
and histories. But this is not what is communicated to us, at least not 
on first application. No field of culture illustrates this more strikingly 
than does that of language. The child absorbs sentences, words, ex 
clamations, meanings. It is not presented with an analysis but with an 
accomplished fact the word or sentence. And it picks up the meanings 
from a feel of the situation, from the effects the words or sentences 
produce, from the response they evoke, from the pleasures or griefs 
that accompany them, and then it proceeds to use its 'mother'-tongue 
and use it well, without, however, knowing it. In other words, the 
structure of that tongue, the principles upon which it is based, the rules 
that keep it travelling along certains paths and avoiding others, all 
remain unknown, profoundly unknown. To bring them into conscious 
ness, to analyze them, requires very deliberate and persistent effort. 2 

What is so conspicuously true of language is also true, if not to the 
same extent, of other aspects of culture. As we learn to walk without 
knowing what walking is or how we do it, so we sing and draw and play 
on an instrument, without any idea of the underlying forms or categories 
or principles, unless we deliberately turn to these aspects, as a distinct 
and difficult subject of study and inquiry. The same is true of morals, 
politics, etiquette, and taste. By the time one reaches the age when self- 

2 This is, of course, illustrated by what happens in the case of one's own language, 
acquired spontaneously in childhood, when compared with foreign languages, 
taught and learned in later years. We know our language and use it well, or some 
of us do, but its grammar we know only if we are grammarians. In the case of for 
eign languages, on the other hand, the diligent ones among us may study and learn 
the grammars very well, hut they will not know the languages or speak them, with 
any degree of facility or even correctness, unless they have had an opportunity to 
learn them spontaneously in the process of spoken intercourse, as they learned the 
mother tongue. 


analysis becomes possible, he simply discovers himself as having all 
these things: certain political views, certain moral convictions, certain 
standards of social amenity, and even certain kinds of taste. When people 
say there is no disputing about tastes, this is less than half a truth. In 
dividual tastes in a given community do, of course, differ. But even 
more conspicuously, they agree; which appears at once when we com 
pare the tastes in houses, vehicles, garments, amenities, of one com 
munity with those of another. The general and far-reaching similarity 
of taste in any community stands out against the background of dif 
ference or contrast between it and another. Now all of this is also un 
conscious and spontaneous in its acquisition. We do not know how or 
why, and only slightly what. We simply live or act these things, until 
we stop to turn around and inspect and analyze. 

What one acquires deliberately, rationally, thinkingly, one holds on 
tolerance, as it were, subject to change or revision. About such matters 
we are ready to differ, to dispute, and to convince one another. A 
mathematician is not likely to be shocked or insulted when his colleague 
presents a different analysis of a formula or a different way of arriving 
at it; neither thinks the worse of the other for the difference. Not so in 
morals, mores, etiquette, or any of the many things and habits and 
views we acquire in the way described above: spontaneously, uncon 
sciously. Things annexed in this fashion become part of our very make 
up. Just because we do not know them, or what they really are, or how 
we acquired them, any doubt or criticism or difference impresses us 
as an impingement upon our very natures, and our protest is accom 
panied by a more or less violent explosion of emotion!; What further 
intensifies the emotional padding of habits and views thus acquired is 
the social. sanction which supports and hallows them, in any given place 
and timeJ Either they are just part of ourselves and we are therefore 
touchy about them, or they are held as 'convictions,' and as such are 

r assailable. 
It is on this basis that one's allegiance to the minor or major groups 
to which one belongs gains in strength and becomes surrounded by 
protective discriminations, criticisms, and resentments against other 
groups!, a process which is almost as spontaneous^and automatic as the 
development of the views and attitudes themselves,! In summary it might 
then be said that culture is historical or cumulative, that it is com 
municated through education, deliberate and non-deliberate, that its 
content is encased in patterns (that is, standardized procedures or idea 
systems) , that it is dogmatic as to its content and resentful of differences, 
that its contribution to the individual is absorbed largely unconsciously, 


leading to a subsequent development of emotional reinforcements, and 
that the raising of these into consciousness is less likely to lead to in 
sight and objective analysis than to explanations ad hoc, either in the 
light of the established status quo, or of a moral reference more or less 
subjective, or of an artificial reasonableness or rationality which is 
read into it; also,, finally, that culture in its application and initial 
absorption is local. The spot and the hour control its impact upon us. 
People's allegiance to it is itself as spontaneous and non-deliberate as are 
those negative reactions aroused by differences between one's own culture 
and that of others. 

Chapter IV 

I think it has become clear by now that the anthropologist deals with 
the past only inferentially. The presence of archaeological material here 
and there, or a comparison of several accounts belonging to different 
periods, enables him to construct a fairly complete picture of a culture 
in a particular tribe or locality. This picture, however, when at all pos 
sible, is lacking in depth: at best it covers but a short span of time, 
owing to the inevitable limitation of our data. What the anthropolo 
gist really deals with, then, is not the past but the present. He studies 
peoples who, in James Harvey Robinson's phrase, are our primitive 
contemporaries. That some of the beliefs and customs thus revealed and 
described may be curiously like those of very early man buried in the 
remote past and perhaps like those of our own forgotten ancestors, is 
another story. 

Now the study of a culture in general is no easy matter, and that of a 
primitive culture has difficulties all its own. Special devices and methods 
have to be employed in order to enable one to record and disentangle 
cultures so foreign from our own as are those of the primitives. As the 
English anthropologist, W. H. R. Rivers, used to point out, a wholly un 
touched primitive tribe does not present the most favourable situation 
for study. People in general, and primitives in particular, do not think 
or analyze their culture they live it. It never occurs to them to synthe 
size what they live or reduce it to a common denominator, as it were. 
When the investigator approaches a member of such a tribe, his point 
of view is not at all apparent to the primitive. If the primitive under 
stands the investigator at all, the fact that this strange fellow is puzzled 
by the obvious and is asking persistent questions about simple matters 
known to every child is not calculated to enhance the questioner's repu 
tation for intelligence in the eyes of his informant. The latter, then, is 
likely to be suspicious of the anthropologist's motives and on his guard 
generally a very unfavourable situation for successful field work. 

A much more satisfactory set-up is found in those numerous instances 
where a tribe to be investigated has already experienced the impact of 



White man's culture and contains among its members at least a few 
individuals familiar with White man's ways. Some of those who may be 
conversant with the anthropologist's language may then be employed as 
interpreters. If the anthropologist is lucky, such an interpreter may also 
function as one of his informants. This, however, is not usually the 
case. The best informants are likely to be found among the older men 
who belong to a period when the culture was relatively untouched, 
whereas the best interpreters are most likely to be found among younger 
persons who can speak the investigator's language and are somewhat 
familiar with his ways, but know less of the group's own past. When the 
services of informant and interpreter can be furnished by one and the 
same person, the field anthropologist is lucky indeed. This was, for ex 
ample, the case with the late Chief John Gibson, Seneca Iroquois, who 
was an excellent old Indian but also a fairly well educated 'White man' 
by training. To such investigators as J. N. B. Hewitt, A. C. Parker, the 
present writer, and others, he proved an inexhaustible source of infor 
mation. Professor Franz Boas was fortunate in his explorations of the 
Pacific Coast Indians to have found an equally well informed and 'civ 
ilized 3 native, whose assistance proved invaluable. Paul Radin in his 
work among the Winnebago also succeeded in discovering one or two 
interpreter-informants of this type, and so did Clark Wissler in his 
study of the Pawnee. W. H. R. Rivers, after having spent some months 
among the Todas of southern India, was a little vexed to find later that 
he could have secured much of the information he had up to that time 
collected, from two old men, one belonging to each of the two social 
divisions of the tribe. 

In the course of a fairly prolonged and varied experience in field in 
vestigation, anthropologists have developed certain principles of pro 
cedure best fitted to achieve results. It will never do, for example, for 
a student, when first contacting a tribe, to set to work immediately, ply 
ing the natives with questions and expecting willing answers in return. 
He simply will not receive them. The rational approach is rather to 
settle down in the camp or village, as inconspicuously as possible, and 
spend some time, perhaps a number of weeks, living the life of the na 
tives and participating in their activities. The more successful an an 
thropologist is in doing this, the better foundation he has laid for his 
future work. He acquires the reputation of being a pleasant fellow, not 
over-inquisitive, who enjoys taking part in ceremonies, dances, songs, 
and palavers. He does not make himself conspicuous by sticking his 
nose into affairs that do not concern him, and he is in general an agree 
able individual. The ability to 'go native' on the surface is thus a great 


boon to the anthropological field student. After a general friendly re 
lationship has thus been established, the work may begin in earnest. 
During these first preliminary weeks the anthropologist should, of 
course, keep his eyes open for any person or persons of either sex who 
may have the reputation of being particularly well informed. If such a 
person can be discovered, and usually he can, and should he also stand 
high in the esteem of his fellows, as would a chief, medicine-man, ex 
pert craftsman, famous hunter or warrior, the anthropologist feels 
gratified. Now, at last, he may set to work. 

In the initial stages of this process it is advisable to make use of the 
so-called genealogical method, first extensively used by Rivers but now 
a common technique among many anthropologists. What is aimed at is 
to extract from one or more of your informants a genealogy as detailed 
as possible comprising what is called a family tree. Natives, women 
even more than men, are usually genealogically minded. In primitive 
cultures relationships are matters of great importance, and much of the 
cultural content is lived and remembered in a setting of relatives, more 
or less close. While such a relationship tree is being worked out, an at 
tempt is made to gather as much initial information as possible about 
the individuals comprising the genealogy. As all such individuals are 
related to the informant, he knows them well, their lives and achieve 
ments are packed away in his memory, ready for delivery. He is, more 
over, likely to be interested in them, and on occasion, to be proud of 
their deeds or attainments. All of this is of great value to the anthro 
pologist by way of establishing jumping-off places, as it were, from 
which new starts can later be made. The genealogical method has other 
features of value. As it presents an objective account, it provides a basis 
by means of which the data of the informant can be controlled. Sup 
pose, for example, that a woman has given you a group of names of 
men and women, all her relatives, has indicated the marriages, and enu 
merated the children in the order of birth. Now, all of this information 
is part of your genealogical record. Some weeks later, when again at 
work with this informant, you may casually ask a question or two about 
these same children, and should it prove that the names and order of 
births are given as before, you will feel satisfied that the informant is 
reliable, that hi^or her memory can be trusted. The informant, in the 
meantime, is quite unaware of being controlled. Also, a genealogical 
record presents, in the nature of the case, an excellent sample in which 
such matters as inheritance of property, or hereditary succession of of 
fice that of a chief, for example, or of a ceremonial leader are ob 
jectively represented. One cannot, of course, be sure that the whole of 


the matter will be revealed, but* as long as one's attention is draw** to 
such a particular topic, it can then be pursued further by means of com 
parisons with other genealogies or by additional questioning. 
; Another method now generally employed is the recording of certain 
kinds of information in the native tongue. It is obviously impossible for 
most students to reside in a native tribe long enough for a thorough 
acquisition of the local language. An exceptionally capable linguist 
might conceivably accomplish this in a relatively short time, but such 
are few. On the other hand, certain kinds of material will never be com 
municated in full detail, with all the niceties and shadings, if the inform 
ant is asked to use the language of the investigator. So a compromise de 
vice has been hit upon. The informant is permitted to use his own lan 
guage. He thus begins to feel at home and relaxed in the situation and 
proceeds to talk at great length, giving an account of a complicated 
ceremony or telling an elaborate myth. The anthropologist, to be sure, 
does not understand him, but he uses a phonetic script which enables 
him to take down, after the fashion of a stenographer, what the inform 
ant is saying. At the end of such' a session or several sessions, he has in 
his possession a complete record, freely given by the informant, who 
has not been interrupted or disturbed during the process of supplying 
the information. The manuscript, still cryptic to the writer, now be 
comes the basis for further study with the assistance of the interpreter. 
First a rough translation is attempted, then the text is utilized, on the 
one hand, for the purpose of eliciting further information, and, on the 
other, as a basis for at least a tentative study of the grammatical struc 
ture of the language. This has now become possible/ By using the forms 
of speech employed by the informant as leads for further pointed ques 
tioning, the student begins to see the outlines of a grammar emerging. 
As an ultimate result, a more careful analytical translation and, per 
haps, an exhaustive grammar may be prepared in due time. 

It will be seen that the linguistic method is thus utilized in two con 
texts: as a tool in studying the native culture, and as an approach to the 
language itself and its grammatical structure. 

(Culture is a complicated affair. For purposes of study it is cus 
tomary to divide the cultural complex into a number of aspects, such as 
the economic life of a tribe, its technology, social and political struc 
ture, religion and magic, mythology and ceremonies, and the pursuits 
of craft and art. ]The field-student is to a degree guided by these cultural 
subdivisions, with the result that in the average anthropological mono 
graph the different cultural aspects are treated separately and under dis 
tinct headings. The field-worker, however, should realize the partial 


artiftciality of these divisions. He must ver be cognizant of the fact 
that a culture to its bearers is their life. To them it represents a more 
or less unified set of experiences, beliefs, attitudes and practices which 
the natives themselves never think of separating , into aspects corre 
sponding to those currently employed by anthropologists. The different 
aspects of culture constantly interplay.) If you take the family system, 
for example, it is as such part of the social organization. But a family 
will be found to function as a ceremonial unit, or as an economic one, 
and as such it reaches out into another domain of culture. There are 
also such things as family deities or spirits, specialized creatures stand 
ing in an intimate relationship to the life and welfare of a particular 
family. Here, then, the family interlocks with religion. Special artistic 
techniques are sometimes found as a family characteristic, hereditary in 
a family line. Here art plays'into the family organization. And so on. A 
culture is a matter of things and processes, but also of linkages. In the 
lives of the people themselves it functions as an organic unit, more or 

As soon as the field-worker takes this fact into consideration he finds 
his study assuming a dynamic aspect. He becomes interested not only in 
patterns, systems, forms of organization, but in the functioning of these 
units or aspects with reference to each other or to the culture at large. 
The functional aspect of cultural things and processes constitutes the 
meaning of these things to the people themselves. The field-worker, 
then, must pay heed to the relatively formal divisions of a culture which 
may be distinguished for purposes of analysis and detailed study, but 
he must also be prepared to transcend these divisions, or he is likely to 
produce, in his account, a merely formal and static picture, lacking the 
dynamism and vibrance of life itself. 

In adopting this method of procedure, the field anthropologist is fre 
quently tempted to read the preconceptions of his own culture into the 
culture he is studying. William James might have called his predica 
ment 'the anthropologist's dilemma/ This is a dangerous procedure 
which one learns to avoid only gradually and by experience. The mean 
ings of things and processes are not the same in all cultures, nor are the 
relations between different aspects of culture. Even though many simi 
larities may subsequently be discovered between culture and culture, 
the wise course in such matters is to begin by accepting a culture on its 
own terms, without preconceptions or outside comparisons. 

Another problem is this: People at large, and primitives perhaps 
more than others, accept their culture rather than make it; they live it 
rather than think it out. The average primitive cannot give a coherent, 


rational picture of his culture, nor can the* average modern. Also, both 
have at least two sets of ideas about their own culture. On the one hand, 
they accept it as it is, and may on occasion be able to give an intelligible 
account of one or another aspect of it. On the other, they also have a 
more or less ideal picture of the culture or certain aspects of it which 
to them represents what their culture should be in their estimation. These 
two pictures of a culture are never identical, but both belong in the 
story. It follows from this that the account of a culture given by one or 
two informants should never be accepted uncritically as an accurate 
statement of the status quo. Invariably the ideas entertained by an indi 
vidual or a group will colour the account. To counteract the aberra- 
tions in the cultural picture which come from this source, accounts of a 
number of informants, taken independently, should be compared, as 
well as verified by the personal observations of the student as to what 
actually occurs. For this reason it is also important to receive from in 
formants accounts of conditions or attitudes which they are induced to 
furnish without knowing that they are doing so. Thus Boas, for ex 
ample, in his study of the Tsimshian social organization, supplements 
the data obtained through direct questioning of informants by a recon 
struction of the social system and kinship terms as secured from native 
texts dealing with religion, ceremonialism, and traditional stories. In 
these accounts the items bearing on social or kinship matters occur in 
cidentally, as parts of an entirely different context. The information on 
social things that the raconteur is furnishing in such cases can be relied 
upon to be free from those personal shadings or rationalizations which 
will inevitably creep into a deliberate and systematic account of the 
same practices or attitudes. In comparing the accounts of independent 
informants, moreover, one is led to detect elements of individual varia 
bility. This furnishes insight not only into the flexibility of the cultural 
pattern, but also into the variations in the understanding, abilities, or 
personal interpretations, as between individual and individual In the 
study of religion, for example, especially in tribes with a more or less 
developed priesthood, it is invariably found that the religious attitudes 
among the people at large are not identical with the beliefs of the 
priests, and that within that esoteric group itself there will again be 
certain individual discrepancies. 

^ In preparing for a field trip the student must, of course, familiarize 
himself with whatever is already known about the tribe which he is 
about to visit. He also has a plan of attack, as it were, which he has pre 
pared in advance, and perhaps a special predilection for, or interest in, 
some particular aspect of the tribal culture. He must, however, be able 


to handle this preliminary equipment with the greatest plasticity, ever 
prepared for the unexpected, even though it may cut right across his 
preconceived ideas or plans. It may be said broadly that every item of 
practice, belief, or attitude should be recorded as accurately and objec 
tively as possible, whenever it comes to one's attention, no matter how 
insignificant or irrelevant it might appear. There is no telling where or 
how it may at some time come to fit into a coherent whole. And should 
this not prove the case, the loose ends of a culture, apparently or actu 
ally unrelated to the rest, have an interest of their own. 

Perhaps no one among modern field anthropologists has shown 
greater ability to absorb a vast array of facts, to interrelate them mean 
ingfully, and to present the results in a cogent and readable form, than 
Bronislaw Malinowski, author, among other works, of Argonauts of the 
Western Pacific, Sex Life of Savages, and quite recently, Coral Gardens 
and Their Magic. All of these books are based on the author's field 
studies among the Trobriand Islanders of northwestern Melanesia. Be 
ing intensely interested in problems of method, Malinowski has com 
mented upon this subject on several occasions. Let us see what he has to 

In his last book, a work which, though admirable, is almost top- 
heavy with methodological excursions, the author makes the following 
statement: 'The main achievement in field-work consists, not in a pas 
sive registering of facts, but in the constructive drafting of what might 
be called the charters of native institutions. The observer should not 
function as a mere automaton, a sort of combined camera and phono 
graphic or shorthand recorder of native statements. While making his 
observations the field-worker must constantly construct: he must place 
isolated data in relation to one another and study the manner in which 
they integrate. To put it paradoxically, one could say that "facts" do 
not exist in sociological any more than in physical reality; that is, they 
do not dwell in the spacial and temporal continuum open to the untu 
tored eye. The principles of social organization, of legal constitution, 
of economics and religion have to be constructed by the observer out of 
a multitude of manifestations of varying significance and relevance. It 
is these invisible realities, only to be discovered by inductive computa 
tion, by selection and construction, which are scientifically important in 
the study of culture.' l 

In field-work, as in other matters, self-criticism is one of the condi 
tions of true achievement. The author just quoted once again rises to 

1 B. Malinowski, Coral Car dens and Their Magic> p. 317. (Reprinted by per 
mission of George Allen and Unwin, Ltd.) 


the occasion. This is what he has to say by way of comment on his own 
errors: C I started as all field-workers have to start, with the most super 
ficial method, that of question and answer. I also had naturally to work 
first through Pidgin-English, since Trobriand cannot be learned except 
on the spot. Thus I put some such question as, "What man belong him 
this fellow garden?" the Pidgin equivalent of, "Who is the owner of 
this plot?" My inquiries, moreover, were limited to the very few na 
tives who had even a smattering of Pidgin. I was keenly aware of the 
lack of precision and insight resulting from this approach, and was 
not surprised that the results were correspondingly contradictory and 
vague. They varied according to whether the chief was present or not: 
in the former case he was ostentatiously declared to be the owner of 
the lands. At other times Bagido'u, whom we know already, would be 
pointed out. If in the absence of the chief or garden magician the heads 
of other local sub-clans were present, they would be styled the real 
owners of the soil. At times my interpreter I was mainly working 
through a rascally fellow called Tom, recte Gumigawaya would claim 
a piece of land as his own and tell me that he was just cultivating that 
plot. Or again I would walk with him through the gardens and map out 
the plots in a field and obtain a whole string of names for them. I re 
member writing out early in my field-work a preliminary account of 
land tenure which unfortunately I have never published- unfortunately, 
because it would have been an interesting document of errors in method. 
There I stated rny opinion that in the Trobriands the natives do not 
really know who owns the land, that the chief has an over-right to the 
whole territory, vaguely acknowledged when he is not present, but defi 
nitely claimed by himself and admitted by the natives who are afraid of 
him ; that the natives have a haphazard way of tilling the soil, there be 
ing no definite rules as to who is going to take over a plot. The account 
contained some elements of truth. What was wrong with it was the per 
spective in which these elements were placed.' u 

1 ha(J occasion a while ago to comment upon the great value for field- 
work of the so-called genealogical method. But withal, a method is only 
a method. The test lies in the results. There is such a thing as seeing a 
mouse brought forth by a mountain* The methodological mechanism 
may be out of proportion to the results attained: genealogical trees are 
worth no more than their fruits. Writes Malinowski: 'But before we come 
to that I want the reader to explore another impasse from which I had to 
retreat, or at least give up as a short-cut to knowledge. I suffered at that 

2 B. Malinowski, Coral Gardens and Their Magic, pp. 324-325. 


time from a belief in infallible methods in field-work. I still believed 
that by the "genealogical method" you could obtain a fool-proof knowl 
edge of kinship systems in a couple of days or hours. And it was my 
ambition to develop the principle of the "genealogical method" into a 
wider and more ambitious scheme to be entitled the "method of ob 
jective documentation." After my Mailu failure for I was aware that 
I had failed there to find out all that really matters about land tenure 
I had developed a strategy of frontal attack on the subject. Early in 
my work at Omarakana I mapped out the territory. I plotted out the 
fields, made rough measurements of the individual plots and, in sev 
eral cases, made a record of who was cultivating each plot and who 
owned it. The documents which I thus obtained were very valuable. 
They are reproduced in this book: the map, the terminology of fields 
and field boundaries, of plots and plot divisions; also the principles 
of inheritance, the pokala system and the manifold legal claims. This 
frontal attack, however, resulted in a multiplicity of unconnected and 
really unfounded claims. My documentation enabled me to draw up 
the list of legal titles which will be reproduced presently, and I found 
that this list agreed with that obtained by the question and answer 
method; and yet, as we shall see, neither of these approaches solves 
our problem. 

'Actually, side by side with these direct attacks, I was all this time 
accumulating that most valuable knowledge which comes piecemeal 
from observation of facts.' 8 

In concluding this account of 'how anthropologists work' let me pre 
sent, in the form of a field-worker's vade mecum, the profession of 
faith, as to field technique, given me by Dr. and Mrs. Melville Jacobs, 
of the University of Washington, who know more about the Indian 
tribes of Oregon than any other living persons, and whose sensitive re 
sponse to the less apparent aspects of native life and attitude serve to 
give their field studies an altogether exceptional value. This is their pro 
fession of faith: 

1. Establish a rapport with the informant, so he can reveal himself 
to you frankly, (Then his account will be of theoretical value.) 

2. Make him 'fall in love' with you. 

3* Discard note-book, pencil, 'turtle-shell glasses.' Be yourself, just 
an interested friend from the outside. 

4. Try to be simple and direct, so as to enchant the informant. 

5. 'Sample' the native until you find what he is interested in. 

a Ibid., p. 327. 


6. First talk about indifferent things, so as not to arouse suspicion. 

7. Use a number of informants, so they can check each other, help 
ing you to discover the objective 'truth.' 

8. Nine to twelve months is a minimum for any sort of productive 
field study. 

9. Native language an essential item (note idioms and 'expressions'). 

10. Compare the accounts of natives of different ages. 

11. Be cognizant of the mentality of the Whites in the neighbour 

12. The best information is that given when no pay is expected. 

13. Watch the native's opinions about the Whites. (Thus you dis 
cover his values.) 

14. Return to the same material again and again, from different 

15. Make the native function as the leader in your interview with 



16. Let him tell you about his own childhood. 

17. Autobiographical native material is important, but no more so 
than biographical material. 



Chapter V 

Animal Adjustments 

The animal, as we saw, is not wholly deprived of technique and in 
dustry which, in part and in certain instances, survive when a particular 
individual or generation passes away. These remain as a material set 
ting for posterity to fit into, as is the case with man who is born into a 
certain economic status and technical equipment. But we also saw that 
this prehuman material culture is strictly limited. The major part of 
the economic and technical set-up of the animal constitutes an inherent 
aspect of his organic frame. 

An animal of prey is fitted out by nature with tools or technique, such 
as the horns or antlers of the buffalo, goat, reindeer and rhinoceros; 
the powerful tusks and long sharp claws of the cat family tiger, 
panther, jaguar, or lion (half cat) all of whom also possess a special 
facility for a lightning and accurate leap; the poison fangs of the rattler 
and its kind, which have the instinctive technique of striking from a 
coiled position as well as back-striking; the highly sensitive, pliable, 
and enormously powerful trunk of the elephant, and his equally effective 
tusks, which he shares with the boar whose impetuous attack is thus 
rendered well-nigh irresistible except on the part of the most powerful 
animals; similarly, the incredibly sharp vision of the birds of prey, 
their powerful beaks and enormous claws. 

The same is true of such protective devices as the tough hide of the 
pachyderms, the odorous sprinkle of the skunk, the sharp quills of the 
porcupine, the armour-like back of the turtle and the shells of mollusks, 
as well as the various devices of mimicry or camouflage, such as the 
stripes of the Bengal tiger or of the zebra, the feigned death of many 
insects, or the colour of many others which mimics that of their floral 
background so faithfully as to make them all but invisible. Also, where 
attractiveness is the objective, in the name of love, the highly elaborate 
and conspicuous plumage of many birds, the almost ludicrously luxuri 
ous fan of the peacock, the sweet, enrapturing voices of the song birds. 

In their adjustments to particular types of environment and their 



functioning in it, animals are equally well fitted out by nature, as il 
lustrated by the hollow and therefore light bones of the birds; the leg 
less, gliding, propulsive locomotion of the snake; the long, narrow, 
often stream-lined shapes of aquatic mammals and fishes, whose swim 
ming adjustment is further enhanced by beautifully placed and shaped 
fins and a rudder-like tail; the warm coat-like fur of the Arctic in 
habitants, such as the polar bear, beaver, Arctic fox, and certain varie 
ties of seal; the equally adequate protective layer of blubber in others, 
such as the whales. These adjustments are not always static, provision 
having often been made for a change of scene, as among squirrels and 
other furry animals, which change their coats at the approach of winter 
and then again in spring, or among snakes which periodically shed their 

Now all of this is, of course, admirably effective and teleological. 
However, as these adjustments are once and for all determined by nature 
and accompanied by appropriate instincts, they constitute a minus as 
well as a plus. The turtle which carries its armour on or as its back and 
can instantly hide its legs and head under this protective covering is, 
thereby, rendered not only clumsy and slow but also helpless when 
turned on its back, so that when one of its enemies of the cat family- 
succeeds in turning a turtle over, the animal is doomed. 1 What was once 
an armour now becomes a dish, and the turtle is leisurely consumed 
by the attacker. 2 Similarly, the gigantic tusks and horns of certain 

^ precise statement of the situation would be this. Turtles come in two 

varieties as to limbs: the terrestrial ones have legs, the marine ones, fins. The 
former are able to right themselves when upside down; of the latter, three sub- 
varieties cannot do this. But all turtles have difficulty in performing the operation: 
they can only do it slowly and after considerable fussing. With the watchful feline 
standing by, this is as bad as not being able to do it at all. (This information was 
supplied to me by my friend Isadore Lattman, M.D., who took the trouble to consult 
an authority.) 

2 Still we know that turtles survive. An interesting insight into nature's devices to 
supplement inadequate protective structures is gained from an old description by 
Alexander von Humboldt (Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions 
of America 1799-1804, vol. II, pp. 189-191). When in the course of his travels in 
South America he came to the sources of the Orinoco River, he became greatly in 
terested in the major industry of the district centring in turtle eggs. On one occa 
sion he found an agent examining, by means of a long wooden pole, how far the 
stratum of turtle eggs deposited in this spot extended into the water. It was found 
that the distance was 120 feet and the average depth was 3 feet. This official placed 
marks to indicate where each tribe should stop in its labours. When collecting the 
eggs the Indians remove the earth with their hands, place the eggs in small baskets, 
carry them to the encampment, and throw them into long troughs of wood filled 
with water. In these troughs the eggs, broken and stirred with shovels, remain ex 
posed to the sun until the oily part which swims on the surface has time to inspis 
sate. As fast as this collects on the surface of the water, it is taken off and boiled 


animals, involving corresponding weight, are not only an asset but also 
a liability. An enormous enlargement and strengthening of the muscles 
of the neck is required to support these accoutrements, leading to a 
decided disproportion in the distribution of weight in such animals, 
which, anthropomorphizing somewhat, we might describe as an in 
convenience. Even the seasonal change of fur or skin does not seem to 
be a matter of indifference in the organic tone of the animal. Without 
our presuming too much insight into the animal psyche and speaking 
behaviouristically, both fur-bearing animals and snakes seem to be in 
an ugly mood when the process of dermal or superdermal change sets in. 

An adjustment, to the extent to which it is specific and unchangeable, 
precludes the possibility of other adjustments. Thus few animals are 
fitted for more than the one kind of climate, altitude, food supply, or 
condition of altack or defence. They do well indeed when finding them 
selves in situations for which they are fitted, but they are worse than 
helpless in others. Even such obviously correlated functions as attack 
and defence are not always equally well served by an animal's equip 
ment. Thus the gazelle and other relatively pacific grass-eating quad 
rupeds can run like the wind but cannot do much else; so, when they 
find themselves at bay, the performance is ended, and the lion does the 
rest. Similarly even the elephant, with his massive bulk, fool-proof hide, 
enormous strength, and formidable tusks, is helpless when the tiger 
sinks its claws and teeth into his trunk, which is relatively soft and can 
be effectively mangled by the ferocious cat. 

Now man, in comparison, has been denuded by nature. Like Kipling's 

over a quick fire. This animal oil, called tortoise butter, is the purpose of all these 
preparations. The missionaries regard it as almost as good as the best olive oil and 
it is used for burning in lamps and also for cooking. In his capacity as naturalist 
eager for information, von Humboldt made certain calculations, too elaborate 
for reproduction here, in the course of which he came to the conclusion that the 
annual production of 5000 jars of oil required 330,000 tortoises which must lay 
33,000,000 eggs on the three shores where this harvest is gathered. On further re 
flection he found this enormous figure inadequate to account for the results. The 
Indians eat a great many of the eggs. Vast numbers are broken during gathering. 
The number of eggs laid by a turtle frequently falls far below the maximum figure 
of a hundred odd eggs. Some of the turtles who foregather at this spot do not lay 
their eggs there, but go off and deposit them in solitude, some weeks later. Many 
turtles, moreover, are devoured by jaguars (N.B.) at the moment when they emerge 
from the water. Taking into consideration all these factors, the scientist concluded 
that the number of turtles which annually visit the banks of the Lower Orinoco to 
deposit their eggs must approximate about 1,000,000. Under such conditions, it will 
be realized, the jaguars have little chance of putting an end to turtledom. Even 
though the turtle's armour may be a clumsy and inadequate device, nature has sup 
plemented it with a factor far more powerful and proof against the ferocity of 
jaguars or man's business proclivities, namely the instinct of procreation, generously 


Mowgli, he is indeed a naked frog. His strength, though considerable, 
is below that of many an animal, not only the elephant and his tribe, 
but also the larger members of the cat family or the more massive 
quadrupeds like horses, buffalo, and the like. His speed on the run, 
though neither negligible nor useless, is also inferior to that of both 
kinds of animals just mentioned. On account of his binocular vision, 
his eye has virtues of its own, but it lacks the adjustment for distance and 
accuracy possessed by the eye of the eagle or hawk. His skin covering 
is negligible as a protection against cold, heat, or moisture. His dental 
equipment, though adequate not only for chewing but, in its more ancient 
forms, also for biting and tearing, and supported by strong, formerly 
formidable muscles, is yet inferior to that of the cats or the grass- 
eating masticators or the wood-gnawing rodents. Thus man is inferior 
to each of these animals in its special domain of excellence. But also, 
he is superior to all in his versatility. 

And that is the key to man's physical advantage! Just because he is 
less physically fitted for any particular purpose he is better fitted for 
many varied purposes. Not being anatomically and instinctively doomed 
to any special mode of life or any specific kind of physical valour, his 
physique can bend itself pliably to many different tasks and, with 
practice, perform many of them well, some well enough, and others 
superlatively well. In this last respect the human hand with its ringers 
stands out as man's particular agent of superiority, excellence, ver 
satility, and effectiveness. This organ, together with man's vocal cords 
and articulating set-up, supported by a brain relieved of much of its 
instinctive baggage and set free for learning, improvement, and new 
accomplishments, constitutes the equipment by means of which man, 
strong in his very limitations and practically unhampered in his range, 
could make the whole of nature his own and rise above it, to own it, 
transform it and bend it to his will and purpose. 

/Nature then left man relatively denuded, but also equipped to over 
come this handicap. Not only did it leave him naked, weak, slow, but 
also less formidable and protected than many of his animal brethren j 
From one angle, man's emergence from the long range of his more 
ferocious and dangerous ancestors provides a lesson in disarmament. 
Animals carry the eternal struggle of tooth and claw, the war of nature 
against nature, imbedded in their very structures. In comparison, man 
is born innocent and helpless, but in his mental and manual equipment 
he also brings with him into the world a capacity for recreating what 
ever he has lost in the form of an equipment no longer static and in 
stinctive but removable, interchangeable, infinitely better fitted for all 




* Captain Frank Hurley, Pearls and Savages. By permission of the publishers, 

G. P. Putnam's Sons. 


emergencies of time, place and situation. This is the domain of tools and 
the chapter of man's achievement as the inventor and maker of tools. 

Man the Tool Maker 

Thus fitted out by nature, man ( set to work from the very beginning 
to supplement his psychic and physical potentialities by artificial tools 
which, appropriately enough, have been called extended sense organs. 
For-the purposes .of this chapter, let me add incidentally, I shall use 
the term 'tool' in a broad sense so as to cover all artificial devices of 
material 'Culture calculated to enhance man's power, comfort, and 

Like all animals, man must live somewhere, nor can he stay in the 
open day and night, exposed to the caprice of the elements and the 
attacks of his enemies. In very early conditions, man often chose a cave 
as his retreat. Among primitives, as we know them today, this is rare 
but not unknown. As a rule we find them erecting one or another -sort 
of habitation. In the crudest form this is nothing but a wind-break, as 
among the Australians or the Patagonians. Then comes a wide variety 
of tents, such as the wood and skin ones of northeastern Siberia, the 
buffalo-hide tipi of the Plains Indians, the many varieties of tents of 
the migratory herders of central and western Asia, including the Arabs 
of Arabia and of the Sahara beyond. Other primitives, who may also 
be using another type of habitation, employ the tent under, special con- 
.ditions. For example, the Eskimo, who build tents during the warmer 
months after their snow houses have melted over their heads, or the 
Village tribes of the Plains, whose permanent residences are earthen 
lodges, but who turn to the usual Plains tipi when the buffalo hunting 
season arrives. Still others build huts and houses, as in Africa with its 
large variety of huts, with circular or rectangular base of mud, earth, 
or branches and mud combined, and a thatched roof. (Figs. 1-5.) 
Huge thatched houses over wooden supports are common in South 
America. Other structures are built mainly of earth, earth and stone, 
or stone alone, like the earth-lodges of the Mandan and Hidatsa of 
the Plains, the fortress-like structures of North Africa, the adobe or 
part-stone houses of the Pueblos, the imposing large stone temples and 
palaces of the Mexicans and Peruvians. Then there are the ttaxk- long- 
houses of the Iroquois and other kinds of long-houses in northern 
Melanesia and New Guinea, the spacious wooden structures of the Paci 
fic Coast Indians and Polynesians, houses in trees, houses on boats. 
(Plates IV and V.) 


Fi.3a Fig. 5 a 

(Drawn by Miss Harriette Akin.) 

In this domain of the 'tools of residence,' as in other domains of 
material culture, the ancient inventions of the primitives have, in the 
course of cultural development, been added to rather than superseded, 
all but a few of the earlier forms persisting in later periods or reap* 
pearing on special occasions. Tents consisting of goat's hair stuffs 


over a saddle-like wooden frame are used by modern Arabs, and other 
tents are used as a temporary device of modern civilization by soldiers, 
travellers, and vacationists. The huts of European peasants and of 
many American fanners frequently represent no more than a struc 
tural minimum of what a habitation must be if it is to be one at all. 
And our boys, in their imaginative moments, like to erect nest-like 
structures of board, as temporary arboreal homes. 

Man not only must live somewhere but he also wants to move about. 

Introductory Study of the Arts, Crafts, and Customs of the Guiana Indians; 
drawn after the original by Miss Harriette Akin.) 

For this purpose his natural equipment is by no means negligible. Every 
where among primitives pedestrian transportation is the most common 
form of locomotion on land, and it still remains such even in the high 
est civilizations, notwithstanding the terrific pull exercised in our own 
society by the automobile, a pull in the direction of sedentary mobility. 
However, even in primitive transportation, artificial devices are not 
lacking. I am not now referring to the wheel, a radical invention of 
the Old World, associated as a cultural complex with the wagon, the 
plough, the ox (castrated bull), and historic agriculture. This consti 
tutes part of another story, rich with technological and mythological 
content, upon which I cannot enter here. True primitives remain on a 
more modest level. Among the Plains Indians of America a useful de 
vice is the travois, a simple triangular arrangement consisting of poles 
which rest on the back of a dog, man's all but ubiquitous tame com- 


panion, and is utilized for the transportation of baggage (Fig. 7). In 
northern districts, where snow is common, the sleigh or sledge becomes 
a useful tool of transportation, as for example in America, among the 
Eskimo and farther south, and in the northern reaches of Asia. The 
principal, as it were organic, part of a sleigh is, of course, the runners, 
which, being narrow, provide a gliding surface with a minimum of 

The problem of transportation by water has been tackled and solved 
everywhere, in one way or another. The canoe, of bark or skin, or in 
the form of a dugout, is found everywhere in America, which is also 
the region where this particular type of vessel, especially the bark 
canoe and skin kayak (see p. 83), has reached its highest form of de 
velopment and technical perfection. The wooden canoe and boat are 
also used (see Plates VI, VII, and VIII), in a variety of forms, in 
Melanesia an$ Polynesia ; a very crude bark canoe, whole or composite, 
in Australia.; In the Melanesian Archipelago there is also to be found 
a composite floating contrivance consisting of several unit canoes tied 
together and used as support for a more or less elaborate house-like 
superstructure, as well as the interesting outrigger canoe, in which an 
ordinary canoe, of a narrower pattern than usual, is made seaworthy 
by a laterally attached light log floating at a little distance from the 
canoe, or two such logs which flank the vessel, or, on occasion, a smaller 
second canoe in place of the floating log (see Plate V). s The dugout, 
highly developed in both structural detail and size among the Indians 
of the North Pacific coast, is found in an equally advanced form in 
both Melanesia and Polynesia, where it often reaches enormous pro 
portions and is in some instances supplemented by boards built up 
along the sides in what might more properly be called a boat. In Africa, 
where navigation is on the whole weakly developed, the * dugout of 
Kamerun is distinguished for its size and elaborate decoration. In 
California and farther south, in Mexico, Central and South America, 
the balsa occurs, a float made of bunches of reeds tied together into a 
floating platform, or a canoe-like structure similarly made of reeds. A 
wooden float, made out of interconnected logs, is in one form or another 
widespread among primitive tribes, and modern ones as well, for 
example, among the loggers of our Northwest 4 

3 The outrigger, single or double, is also found in Indonesia and farther west 
among the littoral and island peoples of South Asia, as far west as India. 

* It scarcely needs saying that the canoe and the boat have persisted into 'civili 
zation,' as have the tent and the house. Our modern American canoe is akin to the 
bark canoe of the eastern Indians, and if it is superior, the advantage lies largely 
in the mechanically secured accuracy of plan and precision of execution. 



Nowhere among primitives do we find any mechanical device for the 
purpose of propelling an aquatic vehicle, with the exception of the 
ubiquitous oar or paddle, handled by a paddler or oarsman, seated in 
the vessel or standing up. The sail, though limited in distribution, occurs 
among primitives, as in the South Seas as well as in an incipient and 
crude form in Northwest America. Another singular conveyance is the 
bull-boat, a circular structure made of hide 
over a support of branches, built neither 1 
for comfort nor for speed, which occurs in 
the American Plains, but also in certain 
localities of western Asia. 

In addition to a place of residence and 
some device for transportation, terrestrial 
and aquatic, man also needs to or wants 
to mitigate his nakedness in one way or an 
other. And so, whether for comfort, pro 
tection against weather or enemies, or for 
embellishment, man has acquired a body- 
covering or clothes. It may be noted here 
that clothing among primitives is on the 
whole relatively simple and light, though 
not necessarily more comfortable, when 
compared with that of the civilized. Habit 
ual elaborateness and the considerable 
weight" of clothes are relatively late de- v __ ,_, _ 
vices of civilization. The latter-day reduc- dians f the Plains.) 
tion in weight and complexity of attire, conspicuous among Western 
women, constitutes an altogether recent and urban development, rather 
limited in its range even today. Many primitives, especially in the warmer 
regions, go around either altogether naked or graced by a very minimum 
of sartorial equipment, such as the loin-cloth for men and a correspond 
ing belt-like device for women, as, for example, in Australia, South Amer 
ica, and sections of Africa. When more elaborate attire prevails the stuffs 
used for wear are in part determined by the materials and the mode of 
life: in Melanesia and Polynesia, bark-cloth; in Africa, either bark-cloth 
or cloths wovejat of fibre in the grasslands, or animal skins in the wooded 
hunting areas, In America three types of clothing prevail: textile cloth- 

5 This applies to garments, in the narrower sense. When it comes to decorations, 
as in the case of the metal embellishments of Africa and elsewhere, or of the protec 
tive coverings of warriors, as in many different places, primitive attire also reaches 
very impressive weight. 


(Clark Wissler, American In- 



ing, which occurs in a continuous region starting with Peru in South 
America and extending northward as far as California and the South 
west; tailored clothing made of hide, in the northern regions of the 
United States and the whole of Canada, including the Arctic domain of 
the Eskimo; and robes, which are worn in the northern plains of North 
America and in the pampas of Argentine. 

In comparison with clothing as such, body decorations of a permanent 
or removable sort are practically ubiquitous. The most common among 
these are scarification and tattooing, which in a limited form occur 


almost everywhere, the latter being developed in exuberant forms in 
Polynesia, the Philippine Islands (Fig. 8), and elsewhere. The process 
of being tattooed, incidentally in the case of a Polynesian chieftain it 
may take the whole of two years is a fine illustration of endurance on 
the part of the subject, persistence and meticulous care on the part of 
the tattooer, and an exceptionally interesting and intricate form of art 
in the resulting tattooed body. By way of 'removable decorations there 
are anklets; armlets; necklaces of beads, shells, metal, or flowers; 
varieties of hair decorations; ear pendants, at times weirdly elaborate, 
as well as lip and nose decorations. 

One of the obvious and urgent needs of man, both for the home and 
on the road, is some kind of vessel or container. In one form or another 
these are found everywhere, built of wood or bark, bone or stone, or 
egg shell (of the ostrich) . Of special importance are baskets in different 


varieties of woven technique, clay pots, and boxes. Baskets and pots in a 
crude form are found, as I said, in many places. Here and there we 
encounter a highly developed basketry technique, as in certain regions 
of Brazil, among the Indians of California, the Pueblos, and the Plateau, 
as well as in the Philippines and the archipelago of southeastern Asia. 
Similarly with pottery, which occurs in varied and sometimes elaborate 
forms, highly finished both technically and artistically, as among the 
Pueblos, the Chiriqui, and the Fiji Islanders. A high development of 


boxes with a specialized technique is found among the Indians of the 
North Pacific Coast. 

As already stated, man had to supplement his relatively deficient 
natural equipment as a fighting animal by tools of attack and defence. 
Weapons of some sort are used by man everywhere. Of these the most 
ubiquitous is perhaps the stone knife, the ancestor of the dagger, doing 
service both as a tool and as a weapon. Next to it comes the club, either 
altogether of wood, or with a head of bone or stone, or (as in Africa) 
with a metal edge. In certain sections of North America, as well as in 
Polynesia, the club has been developed in an enormous variety of forms, 
reaching at points high technical perfection as well as artistic beauty. 6 

Another very primitive weapon is the spear. Being initially nothing 
but a long stick with a sharp point, it is evidently a device requiring 
the least of original inventive effort. In Australia this weapon is uni 
versal, being used both in fighting and for hunting such larger animals 
as the kangaroo. In Melanesia also it is perhaps the most important 

e The club of the Marquesans is, perhaps, the most artistically cultivated article 
in the whole expanse of culture, primitive or modern. See Karl von den Steinen, 
The Marguesans and Their Art (in German). 


weapon, together with the bow and arrow. In this artistically very 
sophisticated area the spear and the arrow shaft, as well as the spear- 
thrower a device the New Guineans share with the Australians and 
the Eskimo have undergone a high technical and artistic elaboration. 
In the neighbouring Polynesian Islands, the bow and arrow probably 
formerly a fighting weapon, now only a toy for practice, sometimes for 
hunting has receded before the club, which has become the favourite 
weapon of war and a hallowed ritual object as well (see Plate IX) . In Af 
rica the spear, fitted out with a metal point, is used by most of the tribes 
inhabiting the vast grasslands of that continent. 7 It is employed both 
in warfare, together with it$ usual associate, the shield, and in hunting 
the wild grass-eaters, the enormous pachyderms and the ferocious and 
powerful cats the leopard and the lion. In case of the latter the hunt 
usually takes the form of a massed assault, the natives riddling the beast 
with their spears while avoiding its attacks, until it finally succumbs. 
In India, where the spear is also indigenous, it is used, inter alia, in 
hunting the Bengal tiger. This is a particularly interesting and dangerous 
form of spear hunting: the hunter is alone; when the tiger is ready to 
charge, he places himself in position, holding his spear in such a way 
that the butt-end leans against the ground, while the entire shaft is in 
clined towards the line of the tiger's charge. When it occurs, and the 
animal's bulky shape begins to descend, the spearman shifts the point 
of his weapon to meet the tiger as he approaches the ground. Thus 
he is pierced and pinned. In North America, the spear or lance, pro 
vided with a stone head, though now practically extinct except among 
the Californian Hupa and the western Eskimo, must have been widely 
used in the past, as is attested by archaeological remains among many 
tribes. This weapon underwent an especially high development among 
the tribes of the Plains, who must have been acquainted with the stone* 
headed lance, at least as a hunting implement, even before they en 
tered the plains or became familiar with the horse. A shorter spear, 
known as a javelin, also occurs in various regions, notably in Australia. 
A weapon of extraordinary importance which occurs even among the 
most primitive tribes, such as the various pygmy groups, is the bow 
and arrow. It is known in all major culture areas of the primitive world, 
with the exception of Australia, where a substitute is available in the 
form of the boomerang, some types of which have ways of their own,,- The 
bow, like the knife, club, and spear, survived up to the time of the intro 
duction of firearms and beyond. In recent days it has become a rather 

T A specialized weapon of Africa, with its iron technique, is the throwing knife, 
a formidable' fighting tool which has a wide distribution (see Fig. 9). 


(Walter Ivens, Island Builders of the Pacific. By permission of J. B. Lippincott 
Co., Publishers.) Such canoes are built of planks, stem and stern being added last. 


For larger varieties, like the dugong, they use a harpoon. 



(The butt-ends of the clubs do not appear in the figures.) 


popular sporting weapon in the United States and other countries, and is 
here and there employed in place of a gun by daring Western adventurers 
on their hunting vacations. Both before and after the introduction of the 
horse, the Indians of the Plains used the bow and arrow in hunting 
buffalo. When the animal was at close range, this weapon proved ade 
quate and effective even with so massive a target. 

In addition to these weapons of offence man has also learned to use 
a variety of protective devices to minimize the danger from the weapons 
of his human opponents. Of these the best known are the shield which 
occurs in Australia/ Melanesia, Asia, Africa, and America and a va 
riety of armours in a number of materials and techniques, which are 
worn on the body, legs, and head. The armour, however, has a more lim 
ited distribution. 

For fishing, the bow and arrow and the spear are used in different 
places (see Plate VIII), as well as hooks, nets, and snares. Prompted by 
the desire to corner his animal prey without direct personal participa 
tion, the hunter has practically everywhere introduced a variety of traps 
and snares, to which I shall return in the section on invention. 

We must regard the various devices for making fire as perhaps the 
peers of all tools, which completely transformed man's life on eajth. 
All are based on the application of one or another kind of friction. Fire 
in different places is produced by sawing, boring, and striking, an 
especially interesting and perfected variety of the boring kind being the 
bow-drill of the Eskimo, the Pacific Northwest Indians, the northeastern 
Siberians, and other peoples. 

All the tools mentioned so far represent man's efforts and successes 
in using natural materials in dealing with nature in the wild. This is 
only part of the story of tools. Man, having conquered nature resisting, 
* also learned to subdue and tame her, thus gaining her willing co 
operation. This was achieved in the cultivation of plants and the domesti 
cation of animals, topics which will be illustrated and commented upon 
repeatedly in the course of this book. Here only one more word^Man 
who domesticated animals has also, as we already know, domesticated 
himself. From this angle, man is one of the animals domesticated by 
man by means of cultural devices: Nor is this all. Many men and women 
have also been domesticated in the course of culture history in a special 
and more sinister sense: they became the slaves of other men. If do 
mestication implies loss of freedom and self-determination and unpro- 
testing Submission to the demands of society and the will of the master, 
then slavery is the most perfect example of domestication, and the most 

Chapter VI 


Of all the native inhabitants of North America the Eskimo are the 
most northern. Their habitations and camping grounds extend over the 
enormous range from South Alaska, where they are in touch with the 
Tlingit Indians, along the shore and proximate interior as well as the 
islands of the Arctic coast as far east as Greenland, and south to New 
foundland and the opposing coast, where they come in contact with 
the northern offshoots of Algonquin-speaking Indians. Of this enormous 
coast-line the only stretch free from Eskimo habitations is the southern 
shore of Hudson Bay. Like the American Indians, the Eskimo are of 
Mongolian derivation, but the isolation of their forbidding habitat has 
led to prolonged inbreeding, with the result that in their physical ap 
pearance the Eskimo can usually be identified as such. 1 (Plate X.) 

1 This is what Hooton has to say about the unusual combination in the Eskimo of 
a very broad face with a very long head, a so-called disharmonic skull. 'It is com 
monly supposed that the great development of the chewing muscles in the Eskimo 
has modified the form of the brain case. The tremendous attachments of the tem 
poral muscles to the side walls of the skull are supposed to have restricted the lat 
eral growth of the brain, compensation taking place by increase in length, thus 
rendering the Eskimo head excessively dolichocephalic and relatively high or hyp- 
sicephalic. The reason for the great masticatory development is supposed to be the 
tough fish and flesh diet upon which the Eskimo principally subsist. In addition to 
consuming large quantities of whale, seal, walrus, and other tough meat, the Eskimo 
are reputed to .use their teeth for untying frozen knots and lashings and for various 
feats of strength. Furthermore, they are reported to soften up leather and prepare 
it for use in clothing by chewing it. In the evening Eskimo ladies chew up their 
husbands* frozen boots so that the latfer may Jaave nice soft footwear ready for the 
next morning. All of these facts are correct.(The ^Eskimo have, of all living men, 
the most powerfully developed chewing apparatus.] To the anatomist most Eskimo 
crania give plain evidence of dental and masticatory hypertrophy. 

'But there are grave objections against attributing their excessive dolichocephaly 
to squeezing of the skull walls by the powerful temporal muscles in chewing tough 
food. In the first place it is questionable whether the temporal muscles actually 
exert any great inward pressure upon the skull walls, as their pull is almost straight 
up and down. The masseters and pterygoids, which also function in chewing, could 
have no such effect, since they are attached solely to the facial skeleton. Again, the 
food of the Eskimo is probably not as tough as it is reputed to be.' 

Then the author adduces the authority of Stefansson to the effect that 'irozen 



Notwithstanding the enormous spread of their habitat, Eskimo culture 
throughout this range is distinguished by a great uniformity. There 
are, of course, local variations in detail, but the general type of culture 
is the same in all its main features. This is true even of the Eskimo 
language, the local variations of which do not rise beyond dialectic 
forms, so that an Eskimo from whatever region can understand any other 

I Total extent of terri- 
tory occupied by the 
Eskimo since their 
appearance on the 
Arctic Coast. 

FIG. 10. THE HABITAT OF THE ESKIMO. (Reproduced, in simplified form, from 
E. M. Weyer, The Eskimos, By permission of Yale University Press.) 

Eskimo or (in cases of extreme distance, as between Greenland and 
Alaska) he will soon learn to do so. The persistence and conservatism 
of the culture are no doubt traceable to the Arctic location, which cuts 
them off from all but casual contacts with other groups, either Indian 

fish is about of the consistency of ice cream.' Eskimo women, moreover, who are 
the ones who 'chew up their husbands 7 frozen boots,' do not have the very narrow 
skulls nor the great temporal muscle attachments which are characteristic of the 
male skull. 'The so-called Eskimo disharmony,' continues Hooton, 'is most pro 
nounced in the Labrador and Greenland Eskimo. The Western Eskimo do not show 
the peculiar Eskimoid features of the skull in any such marked degree. Indeed 
they are much less dolichocephalic than the Eastern Eskimo and sometimes ap 
proach a brachycephalic head form. Nor am I aware of any differences in diet and 
masticatory functioning which would account for such variations in skull breadth. 
It seems to me wholly probable that the Eskimo, like the Cro-Magnon type, have 
inherited a mixed cranial form a long, narrow skull from one ancestral strain and 
a broad face from another. It is much more probable that the strength of the chew 
ing apparatus and its vigorous use in the Eskimo have caused his face and palate 
to increase in breadth than that they have squeezed out his skull to an excessive 
dolichocephaly.' (E. A. Hooton, Up from the Ape, pp. 404-406. By permission of 
The Macmillan Company, publishers.) 


or White, so that the overwhelming number of contacts of any particular 
local group are with other Eskimo groups. These latter contacts, let me 
&dd, are more frequent than might be suspected, considering the great 
distances that frequently separate individual camps, 'The Eskimo are 
great travellers and frequently go visiting, family and all. Such a visit, 
involving perhaps two or three hundred miles of travel, often takes the 
form of a temporary residence, the visiting family remaining with the 
hosts for a number of months. Under such conditions any tendency 
towards localism in culture is likely to be checked and widespread 
uniformity encouraged. 

The physical environment of the Eskimo is so forbidding and its 
peculiarities so extreme that a human group, finding itself in this en 
vironment, would perish unless it achieved a very special adjustment 
to the environmental conditions. This is precisely what has happened 
in the case of the Eskimo. By means of a large number of special devices 
they have managed to make the inhospitable Arctic their home, and so 
well have they solved this difficult problem that occasional visitors from 
the outside world, such as White traders or ardent anthropologists, have 
been known to accept the Eskimo mode of life rather than, in their 
usual fashion, impose theirs upon the Eskimo. The Arctic explorer, 
Stefansson, for example, as well as the more permanent resident among 
the Eskimo, Peter Freuchen, may be regarded as samples of partially 
Eskimoized White men. 

For one thing the Eskimo lives in a land of almost perpetual cold, 
interrupted by relatively short periods of milder weather. 2 Survival here 

2 The prevalence of low temperatures in Eskimoland should not, however, be 
exaggerated, says Weyer. 'Only a small proportion of the Eskimos live in what can 
be considered the high Arctic belt, which includes northern Greenland and the 
Arctic Archipelago with the exception of the southern fringe of Victoria Island and 
the greater part of Baffin Island. In this belt the average temperature, even of the 
warmest month of summer, is within ten degrees (F.) above freezing, which is 
about the same as that during the coldest month of winter in Delaware. Thus, even 
on the extreme fringe of the inhabited world, the climate in midsummer is com 
parable with midwinter climate in a densely settled section of the temperate zone. 
Farther south in the Eskimo region the summer temperatures become increasingly 
milder; until at Dillingham, Alaska, near the southern limit of the Eskimos in the 
west, the average temperature of the warmest month (July) is 56 F., which is 
practically the same as the average temperature of the coldest month at San Diego, 
California. At Hopedale, Labrador, near the southern limit of the Eskimos in the 
east, the average temperature of the warmest month (51F.) is comparable to that 
of the coldest month at Mobile, Alabama; and at Ivigtut, near the southern tip of 
Greenland, it is the same as the average of the coldest month at San Francisco. 
Farther north within the Eskimo province at Point Barrow on the northernmost 
point of Alaska; at Adelaide Peninsula, on the Arctic coast of Canada; and at 
Upernivik, in latitude 73 N. on the west coast of Greenland, the average tempera 
ture of the warmest month is approximately the same as the average temperature 


necessitates protection against the extreme of low temperature, and so 
we find the Eskimo probably the most warmly clad of primitive groups, 
with the possible exception of the natives of northeastern Siberia. 3 This 
attire, very similar for men and women, is made of reindeer hide and 
comprises trousers, a shirt, an upper garment in the shape of a lengthy 
jacket, provided with a hood which can be either pulled over the head 
or pulled back so that it rests on the shoulders and back. In addition 
there are hide mittens and hide boots made of the same material. This 
attire is cut to pattern and sewed together by the women. In many in 
stances the several parts of the garment are decorated by geometrically 
patterned pieces of hide. These decorations, in dark and light colours, 
provide the borders of Eskimo, as well as Koryak and Chukchee, cos 
tumes (Figs. 11-15). The material used for thread is thin string of 
hide or sinew, and the long needle used for sewing is of bone. These 
needles, highly prized by the women, are kept, when not in use, in spe 
cial ivory needle cases, of which there are many varieties and which 
are usually highly decorated by surface carving (Fig. 16, p. 77) . 

Not only is it cold in Eskimoland but it is also dark for days, weeks, 
and months on end. In the more northern regions the sun does not rise 
at all for several months at a time, and when it rises, it appears above 
the horizon in the form of a mildly luminous, reddish disk, travels for 
some distance, always close to the horizon, and then sets. To balance this 
reign of darkness there are, of course, equally long periods of continuous 
illumination. Obviously the Eskimo could not exist without some form 
of artificial lighting, which is provided by sandstone lamps (Fig. 32, 
p. 93) in which oil or blubber is burned. These lamps, used inside 
the house, are usually fed by drippings of blubber which fall into the 
lamp from pieces of rich, fatty meat suspended from wooden supports, 

during the coldest month at Victoria, Canada; Portland, Oregon; Nantes, France; 
and Hankow, China. (E. M. Weyer, The Eskimos, p. 20. Reprinted by permission 
of the Yale University Press.) 

8 'That Eskimos sometimes suffer from frostbite is mentioned by many Arctic 
travellers,' writes Weyer. 'Whether their resistance to it is appreciably different from 
that of other people is open to question. Perhaps tljjose who are not able to endure 
cold are, as a rule, eliminated fairly early in life. (There may be a certain amount 
of unconscious selection in the killing ^i some of the children by their parents, 
a practice general among the Eskimos J No instance appears of testing a child's 
endurance by exposing it to the cold, but the manner in which infants are exposed 
to the elements in the natural course of events must have some selective influence. 
Jenness remarks that he has seen a woman expose an infant to the weather with 
the thermometer at 30F. below zero in a thirty-mile-an-hour blizzard while she 
leisurely changed its garments. Mathiassen writes: "In 20 I have seen a woman 
bring her nine-months adoptive daughter out of the pouch and sit her on the sledge 
for a little while with her lower body bare."' (Ibid., pp. 47-48.) 

Fig. 11 

Fig. 12 

Fig. 14 


FIGS. 11, 12, 13, 14 AND 15. KORYAK CLOTHES. These objects of attire repro 
duced from W. Jochelson's monograph on the Koryak (Jesup North Pacific 
Expedition, Vol. VI, Part 2) represent the artistic sartorial technique in skin 
and fur at its height. This accomplishment these Siberian natives share with 
their neighbours the Chukchee and the American Eskimo. 



while it is being cooked over the lamp. In this way the lamps furnish 
both heat and a moderate degree of light also, to be sure, an abundance 
of smoke, an inevitable characteristic of the inside of an Eskimo habita 

The next problem is that of the habitation itself. Though the Eskimo 
can stand cold with relative equanimity, even sleeping in the open 
under conditions prohibitive to others, living without some protective 
structure or other would be impossible in that climate. The two types 

Primitive Art. By permission of the Institute for Com 
parative Research in Human Culture, Oslo, Norway.) 

of habitation used by the Eskimo are the snow house for the larger 
part of the year and a skin tent during the short period of relatively mild 
weather. The material for the snow house is available most of the time 
and in ample quantity. The structural unit is a fairly large, evenly shaped 
block of snow, cut in the neighbourhood of the house which is being 
built, for which purpose a large bone snow knife is used. Usually it 
is the women who cut and shape these blocks. Ordinarily two or three 
people co-operate in erecting a house, although under duress, one per 
son, almost always a man but occasionally a woman, may erect a house 
single-handed. If three persons co-operate, one will be working on the 
inside and two on the outside of the rising wall, which is built up of 
superimposed layers of snow blocks. These layers ascend in spiral 
fashion, so that the surface of each layer is not altogether horizontal. 
When a new layer is to be laid, the initial block is thus supported not 
only from the bottom but also from the side, which prevents it from 
collapsing towards the inside of the house. Unless this device were 
adopted, the hemispherical form of the house would not be structurally 
feasible (Fig. I7a). After the larger part of the structure has been fin- 



ished there remains an opening on the top, which is finally closed by a 
snow block shaped to fit it. The connecting edges of the separate blocks 
are smoothed over, on both the inside and the outside of the house. When 
it is finished, the snow surface is smooth and unbroken. Now the man on 
the inside of the house is marooned, for there is as yet no entrance. 

Presently he makes his way out by 
working a passage through the snow at 
the ground level, thus forming the 
opening which is henceforth to serve 
as the entrance. Usually a covered pas 
sage is added, encasing this entrance 
and extending some distance from the 
house, with a lateral twist at the end 
where the real entrance will be. The 
purpose of this twist is to break the 
force of the wind. As a further protec 
tion from wind and cold, the original 
entrance of the house, now inside^the 
passage, will frequently be blocked by 
a P* ece f * ce or frozen snow shaped 
so as to ^ t " 16 out ^ ne f *he entrance ; 
when it is not in use, it may be seen 
lying in the passageway. 
FIG. 17. SNOW HOUSE: a, OUTSIDE, Inside the house itself the whole 

b, INSIDE. (Franz Boas, The Central understructure, except the section that 
Eskimo.) , , , r 

leads to the entrance, consists of a foun 
dation of snow, the two blocks on the sides of the entrance passage being 
used for the cooking lamps, each attended by a woman, usually the wives 
of the master of the house; for polygyny Is the rule here^ In the back 
of the house another snow platform is erected on which the family bed 
is made. Discarded wooden implements are placed on it, covered with 
several layers of heavy skins, and upon these the family lies down for 
the night, all in a row and naked (for all clothes are discarded upon 
entering the house). 

The only ventilation is provided by a small hole in the roof. With 
two lamps going and a considerable number of people about, the 

temperature in the house is high, the air stuffy and filled with smoke 

a condition enhanced by the inadequacy of the ventilation through the 
tiny hole in the roof. Also, the snow, of course, tends to melt from the 
heat. Stalactite-like little pendants of melting snow gradually form under 
the dome of the house, and unless proper measures are taken, they 




(Franz Boas, The Central Eskimo.} 

The section (a) in front of the entrance is protected by a semi-circular turn in the 
wall which prevents the wind and snow from blowing directly into the house, (b) is 
formed by a small dome about six feet in height, while the two doors are about 
two and one-half feet in height. Equally high is the passage (c) formed by an ellipti 
cal vault. The door to the main room is about three feet high, while the floor of the 
latter is about nine inches above the floor of the passage, so that any moisture 
accumulated on the floor of the main room will flow off into the passage, but the 
opposite will not occur. The small compartments (d) are formed by vaults and may 
be entered either through small doors from the main room or the passage, or by the 
removal of one of the snow slabs from the outside. The compartments are used 
for storing clothing, harness, meat and blubber. Over the entrance to the main 
room a window is cut through the wall, which is either square or more often 
arched. This window is covered with the intestines of ground seals, neatly sewed 
together, the seams extending vertically. In the centre of the window is a hole for 
looking out, into which a piece of fresh water ice is sometimes inserted. 

In the main room, on both sides (h) of the door and in the back of the room (g) 
a bank of snow two and one-half feet high is raised, leaving a passage five feet 
wide and six feet long (e) . The rear part is the bed (g) while on the two sides (h) 
the lamps (/) are placed and meat and refuse are heaped. 

presently begin to drip. In a crudely or hurriedly built house, this is 
prevented by one or another of the inmates arising in time and pressing 
the dripping pendant back into the snowy mass of the roof, where it 
freezes again a somewhat annoying and' unsatisfactory palliative. In 


a well-built house, which is the rule, there is no necessity for these extra 
precautions. In such a house the walls and ceiling are protected on the 
inside by skins suspended on small ropes which are drawn through the 

Fie. 19. ESKIMO SLEDGE. (Franz Boas, The Central Eskimo.) 

Among the tribes where driftwood is plentiful (Hudson and Davis Straits) the 
best sledges are made with long wooden runners. The sledges have two runners 
from five to fifteen feet long and twenty inches to two and one-half feet apart. 
They are connected by cross bars of wood or bone (a) and the back is formed by 
deer's antlers (b) with the skull attached. This back is used for steering, for 
attaching the lashing when a load is carried and for hanging the snow knife and 
the harpoon line upon it. The bottom of the runners is shod with whalebone, ivory 
or the jaw bones of a whale (c). In long sledges the shoeing is made broadest at 
the head. When travelling over soft snow, this proves of value, as the snow is pressed 
down by the broad surfaces of the runners at the head, and the sledge glides over 
it without sinking in very deeply. 

The shoe is either tied or riveted to the runner. In the former case, the lashing 
passes through sunken drill holes, to prevent friction when moving over the snow. 
The right and left sides of a whale's jaw are often used for shoes, as they are 
of the right size, thus providing excellent one-piece shoes. The exposed points of 
the runners are frequently protected with bone also on the upper side. 

The cross bars (a) are lashed to the runners by thongs which pass through 
two pairs of holes in each bar and corresponding, ones in the runners. The bars 
extend beyond the runners on each side, a sort of neck being formed in the pro 
jecting parts by notches on the two sides of the bar (see drawing). When a load 
is lashed onto the sledge, the thongs are fastened to these necks. 

Under the foremost cross bar there is a hole in each runner through which a 
very stout thong passes, which is prevented by a button from slipping through. 
One thong ends in a loop (e), to the other a clasp (d) is tied, which, when in 
use, passes through the loop at the end of the other thong. Upon this line the dogs* 
traces are strung by means of a small implement with a large and small eyelet: 
to one the trace is tied, the other is used for stringing the implement upon the 
stout thong. 

walls and held tight by toggles on the outside (see Fig. 176). When this 
is done, no further damage ensues ; the snow melts from the hot air in 
the upper section of the room, the water thus formed trickles down the 
skins along the inner surface of the wall and to the bottom of the house, 


where it freezes again in the lower temperature. In spring, when the 
weather becomes warmer, the houses tend to melt Not infrequently a 
roof will cave in. For a while the damage may be repaired by a piece of 
skin to cover the hole. As the warm weather continues, the house becomes 
uninhabitable. 4 Then the 'summer' tents make their appearance; they 
are made of skins over a rough assemblage of poles; the skin is pinned 
to the ground by small blocks of wood and held fast by stones placed 
on the ground along its periphery. Many houses are more elaborate than 
those here described, consisting of several semi-spherical snow structures 
connected by a number of covered snow passages, or of one such struc 
ture with a passage and compartments (see diagram, Fig. 18). 

Another pressing problem is that of transportation, both on land and 
on water. This has been admirably solved by means of the sleigh, canoe 
(kayak) , and woman's boat (umyak) . The sleigh is of the same general 
pattern as most sleighs, and it is pulled by dogs 5 (Fig. 19). 

4 'What a house to have a second mortgage on!' exclaimed a visitor in my class 
once; apparently she was better versed in the ways of business than in those of 

5 At this point a frequently made popular error, to the effect that the Eskimo 
sleighs are pulled by reindeer, should be corrected. The reindeer, which plays an 
important part in the economy of the Eskimo|has not been, domesticated by them 
and is therefore not available for transportation purposes^ Of course, in more 
recent days sleighs pulled by reindeer may be readily enough seen in Alaska, and 
the driver may be an Eskimo. This, however, is a recent phenomenon consequent 
upon the introduction of domesticated reindeer into Alaska by White men. 

As to the dogs, Boas's remarks on their treatment by the Eskimo and on their 
behaviour are so interesting as to deserve reproduction verbatim. 'The strongest 
and most spirited dog has the longest trace and is allowed to run a few feet in 
advance of the rest as^aj^ad 61 ^ i ts sex * s indifferent, the choice being made chiefly 
with regard to strength. Next to the leader follow tw^a^^rthrej^^^ with 

traces of equal length, ^and the weaker and less manageaELethe dogs the nearer 
they run to the sledge.jA team is almost unmanageable if the dogs are not accus 
tomed to one another., They must know their leader, who brings them to terms 
whenever there is a quarrel. In a good team the leader must be the acknowledged 
chief, else the rest will fall into disorder and refuse to follow him. His authority is 
almost unlimited. When the dogs are fed, he takes the choice morsels; when two 
of them quarrel, he bites both and thus brings them to terms [Fig. 20]. 

'Generally there is a second dog which is inferior only to the leader, but is feared 
by all the others. Though the authority of the leader is not disputed by his own 
team, dogs of another team will not submit to him. But when two teams are ac 
customed to travel in company the dogs in each will have some regard for the 
leader of the other, though continuous rivalry and quarrels go on between the two 
leaders. Almost any dog which is harnessed into a strange team will at first be 
unwilling to draw, and it is only when he is thoroughly accustomed to all his 
neighbours and has found out his friends and his enemies that he will do his work 
satisfactorily. Some dogs when put into a strange team will throw themselves down 
and struggle and howl. They will endure the severest lashing and allow themselves 
to be dragged along over rough ice without being induced to rise and run along 
with the others. Particularly if their own team is in sight will they turn back 



The sleigh must be strongly built, for driving in the Arctic regions is 
not by any means smooth going all the way. There is many a rough 
stretch where the tension on the sleigh is considerable. The Eskimo 
craftsman, however, builds solidly, though no nails nor anything else 
of the sort is used in the framework of the sleigh. Before starting on a 
journey, the driver turns his sleigh upside down and wets the bone 
surface with water, if it is available, or by spitting on it. The wet strip 

and try to get to it. Others, again, are quite willing to work with strange dogs. 
'Partly on this account and partly from attachment to their masters, dogs sold 
out of one team frequently return to their old homes, and I know of instances in 
which they even ran from thirty to sixty miles to reach it. Sometimes they do so 
when a sledge is travelling for a few days from one settlement to another, the dogs 
not having left home for a long time hefore. In such cases when the Eskimo go to 
harness their team in the morning they find that some of them have run away, 

FIG. 20. Doc IN HARNESS. (Franz Boas, The Central Eskimo.) 

particularly those which were lent from another team for the journey. In order to 
prevent this the left fore leg is sometimes tied up by a loop which passes over 
the neck. When one is on a journey it is well to do so every night, as some of the 
dogs are rather unwilling to be harnessed in the morning, thus causing a great 
loss of time before they are caught. In fact such animals are customarily tied up at 
night, while the others are allowed to run loose.' (Franz Boas, The Central Eskimo, 
pp. 533-534.) 



of bone presently freezes over, thus providing a perfect gliding surface. 

Frequently the Eskimo is forced to travel in a driving storm, a pro 
hibitive venture unless some protection is provided for the eyes. This is 
done in the form of goggles, wooden spectacle-like ovals or disks con 
nected across the nose and with narrow slits for the eyes. 

The facilities available for navigation are equally adequate and in 
genious. The Eskimo kayak is a specialized variant of the canoe, differ 
ing from the latter only in so far as the entire wooden skeleton is cov- 

FIG. 21. KAYAK AND FRAMEWORK, (Boas, op. cit.) 

ered, top and bottom, with skins sewed together into a solid surface, the 
only aperture left being located about the centre of the kayak. Into this 
the paddler slips. He is, of course, dressed in the usual thick hide gar 
ment and fits into the hole snugly. In this way the kayak is transformed" 
into a relatively air-tight vessel, very light and exceedingly seaworthy 
(Fig. 21). It is propelled by a double-bladed paddle which the Eskimo 
has learned to use from childhood, thus becoming incredibly expert at 
it. A skilful paddler has no trouble righting the kayak should it capsize. 
He can, in fact, at will make it do so, describing a complete arc under 
the water and reappearing on the other side of the kayak, whereupon 
he rights it again and paddles on as if nothing had occurred. The kayak, 
being long, narrow, and light, can be propelled with considerable speed, 
and is singularly well adapted for navigation in the ice-infested waters 
of the Arctic Ocean. It is also guaranteed against being 'rubbed in' when 
an ice-field suddenly closes in upon it, a great menace to any ordinary 
vessel On account of its shallow draught and slight weight, the 
kayak is lifted upon the ice, where it sits unhurt, ready for the next 
joOrney. A kayak is sometimes built for two, but as a rule it is a one- 



AND ARROW. (Drawn by Miss 
Harriette Akin.) 

man affair. One of its most important uses is in connexion with the 
reindeer hunt, the harpoon being the weapon employed. In a pinch 
several additional persons, a whole family in fact, including wives, 
offspring, and a dog or two, may be tucked away inside the kayak, not 
a wholesome or comfortable mode of transport but sufficient under 
duress. Then there is the umyak, or woman's boat, so called because it 
is used for longer journeys when the family travels together, and the 
rowing is done by the women. It is a less unusual kind of boat, much 
larger and without an upper skin covering. The body of the boat in 
this case consists of a wooden frame with skin drawn over it up to the 

gunwale. The oarsmen, as stated, are 
women, who use oars instead of paddles. 
The food quest in Eskimoland consti 
tutes a pressing and perpetual problem. 
Often enough, it can only be solved imper 
fectly; also, there are in it elements of 
adventure and of danger. The reindeer is 
hunted in two ways. If a reindeer herd is 
in the vicinity of the camp a frequent 
occurrence an Eskimo may go alone and 
shoot a deer with his bow and arrow ,(see Fig. 22) . 6 But there is also a 
communal reindeer hunt, usually undertaken when a herd of reindeer 
appears after a long period of scarcity. Then an effort is made to drive 
the herd, if possible, towards a strip of water, a river or lake, the hunters 
in their kayaks waiting in readiness at the edge. As the animals plunge 
into the water, a general call to arms is sounded: at once, the hunters, 
harpoons in hand, paddle furiously after the deer, which are plunging 
through the water in mortal fear. In the consequent disorder many ani 
mals get into each other's way, thus being impeded in their progress. 
Now it is easy to strike them with a well-aimed harpoon thrown at close 

From his observation of the Bear Lake Eskimo, Stefansson states that an effec 
tive range of the average Eskimo bow used against the caribou varies between 75 
and 90 yards. At 30 or 50 yards the arrow will pass through the thorax or abdomen 
of an adult caribou and travel several yards beyond. The thrust of the arrow is not 
powerful enough to break a caribou bone, except perhaps a rib ; it will never break 
a leg, though the point may penetrate a long bone slightly and perhaps stick fast 
in it. Stefansson adds the interesting detail that 'when an arrow lodges in an ani 
mal* every movement of the body causes pain and tends to increase bleeding. For 
this reason an animal which would have kept moving with a similarly located bullet- 
wound will lie down if it carries an arrow, and will thus give a chance for a second 
shot. Far fewer wounded animals escape from the bow-hunters than do from 
the rifle-using Eskimo. ('Preliminary Anthropological Report of the Stefansson- 
Anderson Arctic Expedition,' Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of 
Natural History, vol. XIV, 1914, p. 96.) 


quarters. On occasions such as this, large numbers of reindeer will be 
killed at one time. There is jubilation in the village, and an ample food 
kettle for a long time to come. 7 

The hunting of a seal, the second most important food animal, is a 
much more difficult procedure. In the winter, when no large gather 
ings of seals occur, they have to be hunted individually, and the hunter 
also is usually a single man. Being a mammal and a lung-breather, the 
seal cannot stay under water indefinitely: every so often it must come 
up to breathe. To provide for this, the seal makes holes in the ice for 
breathing purposes, to which he returns periodically. I said 'holes' rather 
than 'a hole,' because the seal usually has a choice of a few. In the 
prevailing low temperature such a hole will, of course, quickly freeze 

FIG. 23. SEAL TRUMPET. (Franz Boas, op. cit. Drawn 
by Miss Harriette Akin.) 

When stemmed against the ice and applied to the ear, this device makes it 
easier to hear the seal, as it is approaching the breathing hole. 

over, even though the layer of ice will be thin and can be broken through 
easily enough by the returning seal. During snowfall the breathing- 
hole, covered over by the snow, is hard to find for an inexperienced 
hunter. A seasoned hunter, familiar with the habits of seals, will then 
proceed towards a spot where he knows seal breathing-holes are likely 
to occur and will locate them in the following way. He goes over the 
ground carefully, striking the surface from time to time with a cane 
provided for the purpose; thus he discovers a breathing-hole by a 
change in the sound. He must proceed very quietly, for the seal is likely 
to be frightened away by untoward noises. Having discovered the hole, 
the hunter sits down on a block of ice and is ready to wait. He may wait 
for a long time, hours or even days. To force himself to be as im- 

7 Note here -what Weyer says with reference to hunting booty (when he speaks 
of 'hunting grounds' this should include hunting waters) : 

'1. Hunting grounds, or rather t}ie privilege of hunting on them, are a communal 
right, except in rather rare instances. 

'2. The hunter or hunters almost always have the preferential share in the game 
secured, but part of each catch is generally divided among the community or among 
those present at the apportioning. 

4 3. Stored provisions are normally the property of the family or household; but 
in time of scarcity there is a tendency toward communalism. Hospitality is stressed 
under all circumstances.* (The Eskimos, p. 188.) 



mobile as possible, he may tie his legs together loosely with a thong; 
his harpoon lies near him, at the right, ready to be picked up at short 
notice. Finally he hears the seal approaching. 8 At once he rises, seizes 
the harpoon with his right hand, and stands ready in striking position. 
As soon as the seal's head appears in the hole, he throws the harpoon, 
striking the seal in the head. The animal, of course, dives back immedi 
ately and disappears under the ice. It can 
not go very far, though, because the harpoon 
point, firmly embedded in its body, is at 
tached to a thong held by the hunter in his 
left hand. A full-grown powerful animal 
will not bow to the situation without a strug 
gle. It tugs at the thong and not infrequently 
drags the hunter to the very edge of the 
hole. In an emergency such as this, the lat 
ter may be constrained to call for help, 
should any be available in the neighbour 
hood, or he may find himself forced to let 
go of the thong and thus lose the animal. If 
all goes well, the wounded seal will return 
after a while to the same hole, to breathe. 
When this occurs, the hunter hits it over the 
head with a club, dispatching it with ease, 
and then pulls the carcass out onto the sur 
face of the ice. Without losing any time, he 
will usually skin it with his skinning knife 
right on the spot, profiting by the occasion 
to cut off a piece or two of oily blubber to 
bf consumed then and there (Fig. 24). 

The two weapons used in hunting, as here 
described, are the bow and arrow and the 
harpoon. Both are somewhat unusual, in structure as in use. One of the 
limiting conditions the Eskimo must face in his environment is the rarity 
of wood. No growing trees being available, he is usually forced to rely 
on the chance of picking up a piece of driftwood, if he is to use wood at 
all. This is seldom of the size or quality fit for a bow, and so we find the 
Eskimo bow made in a variety of ways and materials: a whole wooden 
bow, 9 or a composite wooden bow (Fig. 25), or a composite bone one 

8 An accessory device used for this purpose is the seal-trumpet (see Fig. 23). 

9 What is done in a particular locality depends, in part, on the available ma 
terials. The tribes around Bear Lake, who have been visited by Stefansson, make 

WOUNDS. (Drawn by Miss 
Harriette Akin.) 

When inserted into the 
wound, the plug prevents the 
loss of the blood so valuable 
to the Eskimo. 



Wooden bow 

The three parts of the bow 

Lower surface of bow, showing the sinew lashing 
FIG. 25. COMPOSITE WOODEN Bow. (Stefansson, op. cit.) 

(Fig. 26). The arrow used in conjunction with the bow may be made 
of wood or of bone with a bone or stone point. 

FIG. 26. COMPOSITE BONE Bows. (Boas, op. cit,) 

In both cases the bow consists of three pieces of antler. In A there is a stout 
central piece (a) slanted at both ends, to which the other two pieces (6) are 
riveted. The bow is reinforced by sinews, like the wooden variety, and the joints 
are secured by strong strings (c) wound around them. In B the central piece (d) 
is not slanted but cut off straight. The joint on either side is secured by two addi 
tional pieces of bone, a short stout one outside (e), which prevents the sections 
from breaking apart, and a long thin one inside (/), which provides the needed 

their^bows out of wood, in this case 'exclusively of green spruce trees/ which can 
be secured. These are chopped down with adzes and roughed out. In midsummer, 
after the wood has dried for a month or so, it is further shaped with a crooked 
knife, when it is ready to be made into a bow. The backing used for these bows 
is usually of the leg sinew of the old bull-caribou, although that of smaller ani 
mals and even back sinew is occasionally used. There are three or more different 
ways of preparing this backing and applying it to the bow. The bow-string is of 
sinew plaited three-ply into a long slender line. This line is then taken four-, five-, 
or six-fold and twisted into a round cord one-sixteenth to one-eighth of an inch 
in diameter. The length of the bow-string, between the tips of the strung bow, 
is from 4% to S l /2 feet. The larger bow is used by men, whereas the bows used 



FIG. 27. ESKIMO COMPOSITE HARPOON. (Boas, op, cit.) 

The l^arpoon is a most extraordinary contrivance. It is also composite, 
consisting of four parts (Fig. 27). 

The shaft (a) consists of a stout pole, from 4 to 5 feet long; to its 
lower end an ivory knob (g) is fastened. At the center of gravity of the 
shaft a small piece of ivory (e) is attached, which supports the hand 

by women and boys are smaller in all dimensions, with less sinew backing and a 
more slender bow-string. The arrows made here are also of wood and may consist 
of from three to five pieces spliced together. Being themselves ingenious, the 
Eskimo also accept anything useful that may come from the outside. They have, 
for example, learned long ago to supplement their original stone and bone arrow 
heads with whatever metal became available through contact with the Whites, such 
as tin, iron, or steel. In addition to the wooden shaft and the metal or stone cutting- 
blade of the arrow-head, the section of the shaft which is nearest the head is made 
of caribou antler. This is from 5 to 8 inches in length, slightly flattened or round, 
and fits by a long spike, like a point or shoulder, into a socket in the front end of 
the wooden shaft, while a slit in the front end of the antler-piece holds the cutting- 
blade of the arrow-head. 


when the weapon is thrown; at right angles to knob (e) another small 
ivory knob (/) is inserted in the shaft, which holds the harpoon line. 
The ivory head (b) is fitted upon the shaft so snugly that no other 
devices are used to insure its remaining in place. The walrus tusk (c) 
articulates with (6) by means of a ball-and-socket joint. The point of (c) , 
finally, fits into the lower end of the harpoon point (d) , as may be seen 
in Fig. 27. The walrus tusk is attached by thongs to the shaft, which 
transforms the latter, the ivory knob, and the tusk into a firm unit. The 
harpoon line is attached to the point (d) and then another little con- 



trivance (h) which is attached to the line is pulled over the ivory knob 
(/) . The line between the point and (h) is just long enough for (h) to 
reach to (/), and so long as the tusk (c) remains in position, the shaft 
and point are thus firmly held together. Through two holes in the 
harpoon-point is drawn and firmly attached another thong which is very 
long and is held by the hunter in his left hand, whereas the harpoon 
is thrown with the right. When the harpoon (Fig. 28a) is thrown and 
the point strikes the animal (seal, walrus, or whale), the tusk moves 
laterally in the ball-and-socket joint; this diminishes the distance be 
tween the point (d) and the knob (/) (as in Fig. 286) , (h) slips off, thus 
disengaging the line and harpoon point from the shaft (as in Fig. 28c) . 
Thus the precious point, which is often made with great care, is saved to 
the hunter. 

In connection with the bird spear (Fig. 29a) a throwing-board is 
used, as shown in the drawing (Fig. 296). The ivory knob (c) at the 



rf H 

end of the spear shaft has a small hole, into which die spike (d) at 
the end of the groove in the throwing-board is inserted when the spear 
is in position for throwing. When in use, the board is held firmly in 
the right hand, the first finger passing through hole (e), and the thumb 

clasping the notch (/), while the points of 
the other fingers hold to the notches on the 
opposite side of the board (g). The spear 
is violently thrust forward by the spike 
and attains considerable velocity. 10 

When the harpoon is used on a power 
ful animal such as a whale, a specially 
devised seal-skin float is sometimes em 
ployed. It consists of a wooden hoop with 
a seal- or deer-skin stretched over it. Three 
or four thongs of equal length are fas 
tened to the hoop at equal distances and 
bound together. At the point of union they 
are attached to the line. In the drawing 
KFig. 30) this contrivance is represented in 
action in conjunction with five seal-skin 

As soon as the animal is struck, it begins 
to swim away. Then the hoop assumes a 
position at right angles to the line. Thus a 
strong resistance comes into play, the speed 
of the animal is reduced, and its strength 
is soon exhausted. The buoyancy of the 
float prevents the animal's escape; moreover, it is unable to dive and is 
thus forced to remain within sight of the hunter. 

The most essential accessory of Eskimo technique is, without doubt, 
the drill used for boring holes in wood and bone (Fig. 31). We saw 
before that|the Eskimo are not acquainted with any kind of nails. In 
stead, they Bore holes in the objects or parts that are to be fitted together; 
through these holes thongs are drawn and pulled tightly, thus achiev- 

10 A similar device, a spear-thrower in this case, occurs also in Australia and 
Melanesia. On account of the technical requirements of the situation, this device 
is in principle similar to that of the Eskimo, even though the details of the appara 
tus are different. There is obviously no probability whatsoever of any historic con 
tact between these two regions. We must therefore regard the Oceanic spear- 
thrower as having developed independently of the harpoon-thrower of the Eskimo* 
One peculiarity of the Eskimo thrower which is not duplicated in Oceania or 
Australia is the grooves described above into which the fingers fit. 

op. cit.} 



ing the purpose at hand. In view of the paucity of wooden material and 
the unsuitable shapes of bone used, the piecing together of parts of ma 
terial by means of thongs drawn through holes provides constant oc 
casion for the use of this device. Whenever a wooden spade or spear- 
thrower breaks, repairs are made in this laborious but adequate fashion. 
Interestingly enough, the" Eskimo with all their ingenuity have no de 
vice corresponding to a saw. Thus, when a piece of wood or bone is 
to be split in two a common method 
of accomplishing this is by boring a 
row of contiguous holes and then 
breaking the piece along the weak 
ened line. 11 It will be evident from 
this how basic is the device by means 
of which holes are made. The sig 
nificance of the drill is enhanced by 
the fact that the same apparatus is 
also used for making fire, except that 
a heavier shaft is then employed. 

The drill (Fig. 31) has three parts: 
the shaft (a) made of iron (since the introduction of this metal by the 
Whites) ; the mouthpiece (6), made of wood or bone; and the bow (c), 
made of bone. When the drill is in use the mouthpiece (6) is taken be 
tween the teeth and held firmly; then the point of the drill is set against 
the place to be perforated, and the bow is moved to and fro by both 
hands; as one string winds, the other automatically unwinds. Thus a 
continuous revolution of the point is secured, and the hole is quickly 
made. When the drill is used for making fire, hardwood (ground wil 
low) is substituted for the iron -shaft (a) , which is made to revolve 
against a piece of driftwood (d) . Presently the driftwood begins to 

11 However, see p. 93. In recent days the Eskimo, ever eager to learn useful 
techniques, have caught the idea of a saw from the Whites and manufacture crude 
saws of their own. Such a specimen, very crudely made with an uneven cutting 

WITH HOOP. (Boas, op. cit.) 

edge, is represented by Stefansson (6). Another such borrowed idea are 
the scissors, a specimen of which, made of bone handles with crudely shaped iron 
blades, was jpicked up by Stefansson on Coronation Gulf (a). 



glow. Against the glowing wood a little moss is next applied, which 
after some gentle blowing begins to burn. 

In his elaborate treatise, The Graphic Art of the Eskimo, 12 W. J. Hoff 
man quotes the following letter which he received in 1894 from Turner, 
who had prolonged opportunity to study the customs and art of the 
Eskimo resident in southern Alaska. The letter refers to the methods 

FIG. 31. ESKIMO BOW-DKILL. (Boas, op. cit f ) 

used by the Eskimo in preparing the ivory drill bows, which like many 
other ivory objects of these people are richly engraved with pictographs. 
Turner writes as follows: 'The abundance of walrus ivory in the days 
prior to the advent of Americans . . . permitted the Innuit (Eskimo) 
to secure the best character of ivory when wanted; hence the selection of 
a tusk depended entirely upon the want or use to which it was to be 
applied. Later the best tusks were sold and the inferior qualities re 
tained, as is well shown by the comparison of the older and the more 
recent implements created from that material. 

The tusk selected was rudely scratched with a fragment of quartz or 
other siliceous stone along the length of the tusk, until the sharp edge 
would no longer deepen the groove; the other three sides were scratched 

12 Report, U.S. National Museum, 1895, pp. 739-968. 


or channelled until the pieces of tusk could be separated. Sometimes this 
was done by pressure of the hand, or effected by means of a knifeblade- 
shaped piece of wood, on which was struck a sharp blow, and so skilfully 
dealt as not to shatter or fracture the piece intended for use. The other 
side, or slabs, were removed in a similar manner. 

'The piece intended for drill bow or other use was now scraped 
(rubbed) with a fragment of freshly broken basalt, in which the cav 
ities formed additional cutting edges and aided in the collection of 



ELABORATE SPEAR-POINT. The Eskimo way of making the best of the dearth of 
materials. (Drawn by Miss Harriette Akin after Stefansson, op. cit.) 

the bone dust. When this was explained to me, I suggested the use of 
water, but the native smiled and continued his work. I soon saw he knew 
better than I how to reduce the size of a strip of walrus ivory. This 
attrition of the surface was continued until the approximate size was 
reached. The holes or perforations in the ends were produced by means of 
stone-drills after a depression had been made by an angular piece of 
stone, or any stone capable of wearing away the ivory substance. A few 
grains of sand were put into the shallow cavity and the stone-drill started 
by means of another drill or by a string or thong similar to the manner 
of making fire. 

'Various sizes of stone drills were made, and by their use the different 
holes were produced. It is unusual to find two perforations of the same 
diameter in any object. These stone drills were used in making the long 
holes in ivory objects of all kinds. 

The final smoothing of the surface of the ivory piece was effected 
by rubbing it against a fine-grained stone or in the hand where fine 


sand was held; lastly, two pieces of ivory were rubbed against each 
other and thus a polished surface produced. 

'The etching was done with sharp edges of fragments of flint. Some 
times these stone fragments were skilfully fastened into a piece of wood 
and used as gravers or even as lancets. In later years files and saws 
were used to cut the ivory into the required shape, and pieces of steel 
were used to make the holes. Often a three-cornered file was the instru 
ment used to make the holes. 

The drill bow or other implement or utensil was not produced in a 
day or even in a month, as these articles were usually created for per 
sonal use. I have known of such articles being taken along on a pro 
tracted hunting expedition and there worked upon to while away the 
oftentimes tedious hours of watching game; Again I have known when 
a native had requestsd a friend to etch some clesign, and in their festivals, 
commemorating their dead, these articles were often presented and 
highly cherished as gifts. Other articles of ivory often passed as a legacy 
from a relative to another, and highly valued by the owner.' 

Referring finally to the walrus ivory and antler, both of which are 
employed for engravings, Mr. Turner adds in the same letter: 'You 
will observe many of the larger objects of ivory and antler have outer 
or engraved portions of harder substance than the inner or core portion. 
You will perceive that in bent or curved affairs the outer part is always 
the denser portion of the material. This or -these substances warp or 
curve because of their unequal density of parts. The native saw that heat 
would unshape a straight piece of ivory or antler, and, taking advantage 
of what the sun did, he laid aside the piece where it would become moist, 
and then placed it before the fire, core next to the fire, and warping 
was the result. 

'In the winter the heat of the sun was not sufficient to produce harm, 
but when the warm rays began to heat objects, the native was careful 
to put his ivory or bone implements of the chase in the shade of a house 
or on the side of his cache, or within a place where heat could not af 
fect it. 

C I never saw them dip any such object in hot water or try to bend 
it by force.' 

This account from a student who knew and loved the Eskimo il 
lustrates with great clarity what care was exercised by these people in 
ascertaining the nature and peculiarities of materials, in adjusting their 
techniques both to the properties of the substance and to the nature 
of the object to be fashioned, and the great emotional value that attached 


As an ilkibtration of the engravings 
made by the Eskimo on such objects as 
drill-bows, pipe-stems, etc., 1 include the 
object on this plate, which represents 
a pipe-stem. As usual, the designs repre 
senting animals, men, and objects, are 
exceedingly small and very simple in 
contour, which does not prevent the fig 
ures from being admirably expressive of 
action and even psychic state. On the 
base-line facing ( A ) , the left-hand figure 
denotes a habitation with its entrance 
(). Seated upon the projecting shelf 
seat is the drummer, holding the tambou 
rine ;,drum in one hand while with the 
other he holds a drum-stick (6). The 
other figures are the dancers, in various 
attitudes, with hands and fingers ex 
tended (c). Upon the roof of the en 
trance are two men in similar attitudes, 
while within the entrance is one figure of 
a man in the attitude of falling forward 
upon the ground (</). In front of Uie en 
trance is a group of figures in threaten 
ing attitudes. One of the men seems to 
be drawing his bow with the intention of 
shooting the man facing him, who has a 
hand up as if guarding his face (e). 
There appears to have been a discussion 
respecting a seal lying upon the ground 
between the men which led to the dis 
agreement. The next figure is shown in 
the attitude of spearing a seal in the 
water (e f ) ,the spear bladder being shown 
at the upper end of the weapon. The next 
man is dragging home a seal (/), while 
the next following is engaged with an 
other seal, stooping down for some rea 
son. The large creature lying upon the 
base line, next to the right, is a whale (g) . 
One of the hunters has a hatchet and is 
cutting up the animal, while two assist 
ants are otherwise engaged at either end. 
Next to the right is another hunter in the 
act of dragging along his kayak on a 
sledge (h) , The last person has on his 
sledge a seal which has been captured (i) . 
If the pipe-stem is turned upside down, 
further figures will be observed on the 
new base-line, facing (B), the interpre 
tation of which can be easily made. (For 
further illustrations of Eskimo engraving 
see pp. 95, 99, 102, 106, 112.) 


to such objects in the preparation of which untold hours of toil were 
spent (see Plate XIa) . 

Settling Disputes Among the Eskimo 13 

Among the Eskimo, as among many other primitive peoples, the 
custom of blood revenge is one of the ancient means of retaliating for 
murder.^ In certain particulars this custom, as we find it among the 
Eskimo, is rather unique. In commenting on these practices Boas cites 
a report of Lieutenant A. Gordon from the year 1386 which in substance 
runs as follows: There once lived in the neighbourhood of Cape Chid- 
leigh, Labrador, a 'good' Eskimo who was christened at the White station 
Old Wicked, an impassioned man who was continuously threatening to 
do bodily harm to other natives. When his behaviour at length became 
unbearable, the Eskimo foregathered and decided that he had to be shot, 
which was done one afternoon while he was engaged in repairing his 
snow house. The 'executioner' shot him in the back, killing him in 
stantly. This man then undertook to take care of Old Wicked's wives 
and children so that they should not become a burden on the group. 

This incident, I said, refers to Labrador, whereas the Central Eskimo 
with whom Boas deals inhabit Baffin Land and the west shore of Hudson 
Bay. The fact that similar customs prevail in regions so widely separated 
suggests their antiquity. Another variant of this type of revenge also 
related by Boas is to the effect that the murderer comes to visit the rela 
tives of the victim and settles down with them, knowing all the time 
that they are about to kill him in revenge. He is welcomed, and may 
live on this way quietly for weeks or even months; then he is suddenly 
challenged to a wrestling match, and if defeated is killed; if victorious, 
however, he may kill one of the opposite party. Or he may be suddenly 
attacked while hunting and slain by one of his companions. 14 

Apart from vengeance, there are here other ways of settling grievances, 
of which the wrestling match mentioned by Boas is one, the other two 
being a fist fight and a song contest. Each of the three has its own 
geographical distribution in the vast area inhabited by the Eskimo. The 
legal nature of all of these fights is seen in the fact that revenge here 

18 Primitive law, as a separate topic, is not treated in this book. Instead, I am 
inserting here this bit on Eskimo legal procedure. To omit it would have been cruel 
to the reader. 

i* Franz Boas, op. cit., p. 582. 


is not left to the whim of the aggrieved person but is provided an out 
let in a specific form. In blood revenge the common custom is for a 
man to be overtaken suddenly and by stealth, as was the case in the 
instance reported by Gordon. Here, on the contrary, the man who is 
about to take revenge meets his opponent eye to eye and subject to the 
risks involved in a fight, including the possibility of his being bested. 
The second legal aspect consists in the fact that what is aimed at is not 
a complete annihilation of the opponent but a mere chastisement or 

By far the most interesting of the three methods is the song contest. 
The form it takes in West Greenland is described by Holmes: The con 
testants stand facing each other. Suddenly one of them starts to sing a 
satirical song directed against his opponent. While he does so, the 
other stands by quietly and apparently indifferently. The singer may 
accompany his song by contemptuous gestures towards his opponent, 
he may even spit in his face or butt him with his forehead so that he 
falls over backwards. All this is endured by the other with utmost calm, 
or at worst, with derisive laughter, so as to show the spectators how 
indifferent he really is. When the opponent is ready to butt him he 
shuts his eyes and sticks his head forward in order to meet the blow. 
In this way they may proceed the whole night long, without otherwise 
moving from the spot. 

The well-known Eskimo explorer, Krantz, makes the following re 
marks on the subject: When a Greenlander feels himself offended by 
another he shows no anger nor does he plan revenge, but prepares a 
satirical song which he recites in the presence of his household, espe 
cially the women, accompanying it by dancing until they all know it; 
then he makes it known in the entire district that he wants to sing against 
his abuser. The latter appears at a designated spot and while he stands 
surrounded by the spectators, the accuser sings his song accompanied 
by dancing and a drum and supported by the exclamations of the crowd, 
who also repeat every sentence he articulates. The general tenor of his 
song is, of course, that of a satirical invective against the aggressor. 
When the singer has finished, the latter steps forward and answers with 
a similarly composed song, supported by his relatives and friends. This 
procedure may be repeated again and again. The one who finally has 
the laugh on his opponent is regarded as having won the contest. The 
spectators as a group decide the issue. After this the two contestants 
behave like good old friends. 15 

15 Herbert Konig, 'Breaches of Law and their Settlement Among the Eskimo/ 
Anthropos, vol. xx, 1925, pp. 276-316 (in German). 


The author reproduces a number of these contests which he picked 
up in Greenland. 

Koungak, who is seeking revenge, sings: 

'Let me follow the women's boat 
as a kayak man ; 
Let me follow the boat 
with the singers. 

Though I am shy and modest of nature, 
I shall follow as a kayak paddler, 
shall follow the singing ones. 
It is not strange that he was joyful, 
he who almost killed his cousin, 
almost killed him with a harpoon. 
It is not surprising that he was pleased, 
that he was joyful.' 

Kirdlavik, the accused, dances and sings: 

'But I only laugh about it. 
I only make fun about it. 
Koungak, it is you who is 
the real murderer. 
The reason why you are so wrathful 
and of such wild disposition 
are your three wives; 
and only three, you think, is not enough. 
Others you should ask to marry them. 
Then all their husbands' catch 
you would receive. 
Koungak, because you do not worry 
about others' opinions, 
always you are hungry. 
Everything you have 
your women had. 
And so you have begun 
to kill the people.' 

The second contest is more exciting; the account runs as follows: The 
old Kilinre beat the drum with the strength of a youth and first sang 
Marratse's challenge to Eqerko, who had married Marratse's divorced 
wife- This marriage reawakened the old love and jealousy of Marratse, 
who challenged his rival to a singing contest. This contest was very 


long and lasted, with dance and mimicry, at least an hour. The songs, 
in part, go like this. 
Marratse sings: 

'Words I shall split, 

little sharp words, like wood splinters 
from under my ax. 
A song of olden days, 
a breath of the ancestors. 
A song of longing 
for my wife. 
A song that brings 
A cheeky braggart 
has stolen her. 
He has tried 
to belittle her. 
Miserable wretch 
who loves human flesh. 
A cannibal 
from famine days.* 

And Eqerko answers, singing: 

'Cheek which amazes one! 
Laughable fury 
and sham courage. 
A song of derision 
which proclaims my guilt. 
You want to frighten me! 
Me, who defies death 
with indifference. 
Hei! You sing to my wife 
who once was yours. 
Then you were not so worthy 
of love. 

While she was left alone, 
you forgot to exalt her 
in song, 

in challenging, fighting 
Now she is mine. 


nor will she ever be visited 
by song-making, false lovers, 
abductors of women 
in strangers' tents. 10 

Commenting upon the geographical distribution of the different 
methods of settling disputes, the author brings out the following in- 

Fist contests 

A Wrestling contests 

X Singing contests 

OF CONTESTS. (After Herbert Konig, op. cit.) 

teresting fact. Song contests occur in the marginal districts of the Eskimo 
habitat, that is, in Greenland and on the coast of Labrador in the East, 
and in Alaska and the Aleutian Islands in the West. The fist contests 
are indigenous in the intervening region, around Hudson Bay and the 
mouth of the Mackenzie. The wrestling contests again articulate through 
Smith's Sound with the fist fights in the East, and through Alaska with 
the western area of the singing contests. It appears then that the distribu 
tion of the latter is cut into and separated into two areas by the in 
trusion of the two types of fighting contests. 17 (See Map, Fig, 33.) 

16 Ibid., pp. 314-315. The translation from the German is mine. However true to 
the content of the Eskimo original, this double translation can, of course, not as 
pire to reproduce the form of the native song. 

1 7 Ibid., p. 295. 


Chapter VII 

Hunters and Plant Gatherers 

The preceding sketch of Eskimo technology has made abundantly 
clear the urgent nature of the primary adjustment to the food supply. 
The food quest, which is so difficult and arduous among the Eskimo, 
is only less so among all primitives, especially among those who have 
not reached the stage of the domestication of animals or the cultivation 
of plants/ Man will eat and he must do so with a degree of regularity. 
As the food does not come to him, he must go after the food. 

In this primary adjustment, woman and man have always co-operated 
in most primitive societies living in what was sometimes described as 
'The Hunting Stage.' Woman has her share of labour as a provider, 
in so far as it is she rather than the man who goes forth in quest of the 
products of wild plant nature. In this division of labour, as will be 
shown in greater detail later on, there are some exceptions, but by and 
large wild plant gathering falls to the woman, not the man of the 
primitive group. She digs for yams with a crude stick, as in Australia; 
she gathers mushrooms and barks and berries or nuts and mosses, ac 
cording to the opportunities offered by her habitat. The equipment of 
tools she requires for this work is of the simplest. Not so with man who 
is the hunter. We saw already how elaborate were the hunting para 
phernalia of the Eskimo. While these Arctic people are perhaps some 
what exceptional in this respect, hunting without tools is not possible. 
It is in this connection that the different hunting tribes of the primitive 
world have devised such equipment as the spear, the bow and arrow, 
the Australian boomerang, the almost ubiquitous club, and the well- 
nigh omnipresent knife. Not satisfied with this, man, as has already been 
stated, invented a series of further accessory devices for hunting and 
fishing, such as hooks and nets, snares and traps, in endless variety and 
profusion. By means of a trap, it becomes possible for the hunter to 
corner and hold his prey without being personally present at the crucial 
moment of capture. In one form or another, these various devices are 
found everywhere, however primitive the particular tribe may be. 



The example of the Eskimo has shown that both fishing and hunting 
may be carried on individually as well as in groups. Both of these 
features also have a universal distribution. The Australian may follow 
the kangaroo alone, but he will also participate in communal hunts after 
smaller fry in which women, old men, and children will lend a hand. 
The Eskimo, as we saw, also have communal hunts on a large scale in 
the pursuit of reindeer or walrus. In the Plains of North America the 
buffalo was hunted individually but also by large groups of tribal 
dimensions. It is this latter kind of hunt which became an important 
social institution among these people. 

Not only must food be secured, but it must also be prepared for con 
sumption. While the intake of raw food, vegetable or animal, is not 
unknown either in modern or in primitive society, food of many kinds 
has been prepared in one way or another to make it palatable for 
consumption. Also, it has been stored away, frhis storing and prepara 
tion of food called for additional devices, vessels, and habits of pro 
cedure. Generally, though not exclusively, this task also falls to the 
women. Vegetable food, owing to its very nature, is secured more 
readily, under conditions of less danger, and within a smaller radius 
from the home. These traits of the plant aspect of the food quest have 
almost inevitably led to its becoming the monopoly of the housewife, 
or very nearly so. In these tasks, however, the women were often as 
sisted by the children and the sick and aged as well. Everywhere the 
sustenance of this part of the household is more regularly and relia 
bly provided by the efforts of the home-bound woman than by those 
of her roving hunter husband or son. It is, in fact, a familiar spectacle 
among all primitive hunters that the man returning from a more or less 
arduous chase may yet reach home empty-handed and himself longing 
for food. Under such conditions, the vegetable supply of the family has 
to serve his needs as well as those of the rest of the household. 

Especially in connection with the preparation of meat for consump 
tion, most of the many devices employed in cooking in modern days had 
already been known to the primitives, such as roasting, boiling, steam 
ing, preserving, drying, spicing, and the like. Nor should it be forgotten 
that the variety of eatables thus made available is often very considerable, 
even in a primitive community. The recipes, moreover, in accordance 
with which particular dishes are to be prepared may lack none of the 
precision, complexity, or elaboration of detail made familiar by modern 
cookbooks. Professor Franz Boas, who knew his Kwakiutl so intimately, 
was able to secure from their women several hundred cooking recipes 
which would have done honour to any similar modern collection. 


By and large, of course, the food quest is not a matter of fun, nor can 
it be taken lightly. It is hard work, continuous, often boring, not in 
frequently dangerous, but on occasion it may also become highly absorb 
ing, exciting, and dramatic. As an illustration of the more spectacular 
varieties of hunting and fishing, let me offer a few descriptions, includ 
ing a whale hunt among the Eskimo, one variety of buffalo hunt among 
the Plains Indians, and an elaborate fishing expedition of the Maori. 

An Eskimo Whale Hunt 

This sketch, comprising a picturesque account of an Eskimo whale 
hunt under modern conditions and in co-operation with White men, 
is borrowed from Eskimo, by Peter Freuchen, who of all White men 
now living, with the possible exception of Stefansson, has identified 
himself most thoroughly and sympathetically with the life of these 
Arctic hunters. 

This is Freuchen's tale: 'At last they sighted a whale. The water which 
the whale spouted each time it came to the surface showed from afar 
where it was. The blowing indicated that the animal must be a good 
sized one and easy to approach closely. Here was a splendid chance for 
a good catch and helmsman and harpooner kept an alert walch on their 
distant prey. First they must discover the direction the whale was taking. 
They made all preparations for the animal was making straight for their 
boat and Mala [the Eskimo hero of Freuchen's story] realized that they 
would soon make their first catch. The excitement of the hunt gripped 
them all as they rowed toward the whale. The animal apparently sus 
pected nothing and was speeding calmly through the water. 

' "Can any life be happier than that of a whale?" thought Mala. The 
whale need only dive deep enough to obtain its food; it opens its mouth, 
pushes out its mighty tongue and keeps on swimming while its gullet 
rakes in the small fish. As soon as its mouth is filled sufficiently the 
whale locks in the prey with its tongue and presses out the water, while 
the food is retained by the baleen which forms a fringe-like sieve ex 
tending from the upper jaw. The food of the whale consists of millions 
of little fish, and the only thing the whale has to do after locking up 
his prey is to swallow it and that, after all, is the greatest joy of every 
living being. There cannot be any doubt that whales have every reason 
to be satisfied with their lot. 


'Now the boat was quite close to the whale. The men who had never 
before caught whales felt their hearts pounding, and were very careful 
lo observe all precautionary measures. As soon as they reached the 
wake of the whale, they pulled in the oars, laying them very quietly in 
the bottom of the boat, so that no noise should scare the whale away. The 
water around them seemed to be boiling with tiny air bubbles ejected 
by the gigantic creature. The tell-tale bubbles made it possible for them 
to follow its trail. Whales are very wary ; they know from great distances 
when a boat is crossing their course. Since they usually keep on in a 
straight line, it is possible either to follow them or, with luck, to ap 
proach them from straight ahead when they float on the surface breath- 
ing-in air. They cannot see straight ahead, as their eyes are on either 
side of their heads, and if approached noiselessly from the front, they 
are a sure prey. However, should they suddenly turn and catch a glimpse 
of the boat, they lose no time in vanishing from sight. 

The men used small paddles and brought the boat to without a ripple. 
They could see nothing, but they felt instinctively that the mighty animal 
was coming to the surface. Presently the colossus became visible; a 
mighty spout of water rose high in the air. Fetid air had to be exhaled 
and fresh air inhaled repeatedly before the whale could dive for food 
again. After all there was nothing in the world for it to fear not for an 
animal of such great bulk as this giant! There were no enemies here. The 
whale floated serenely on the surface and the helmsman did not dare to 
utter a word of command. Everyone thought of the instructions he had 
been given before and tried to do his best. The most important thing now 
was to get ahead, speedily and noiselessly. In case they bungled the job, 
hell would break loose. 

'Then everything happened quickly : The harpooner hurled his spear- 
like weapon deep into the body of the whale. 

'At that moment, the fear of death nearly overcame them. What a 
tremendous lashing of the tail! How the water boiled all around them! 
And then, with indescribable speed, the whale made for the sheltering 
depths. The swiftness with which the line unrolled from the box! It 
rushed out of the containers, first out of the one, then out of the other. If 
anybody had stood in the way, the line would have snapped off his legs. 
If the line should become entangled now, the whale would pull the boat 
beneath the surface of the sea. 

'Mala felt a sinking sensation in his stomach. This, certainly, was dif 
ferent from hunting a miserable little seal which one could hold on to 
with one hand, provided one's line was strong. How excitement could 
bring out the sweat! Big beads of perspiration gathered on his forehead. 


'Not before the whale had reached the bottom of the sea and the line 
had stopped uncoiling, did they receive an order, "Back water!" They 
obeyed and the harpooner took a deep breath. As soon as the line 
tightened, there was a jerk. It was certain that the barbed hooks of the 
harpoon had struck, despite the tremendous pull exerted by the whale 
when it made its wild rush for safely. There was a muffled detonation. An 
explosive, imbedded in the head of the harpoon, had been discharged by 
the desperate struggling of the beast. The charge must have torn terrible 
holes in the mighty body. Now all depended on whether the harpoon had 
penetrated the body of the animal in a straight line; otherwise the ex 
plosive would do no more harm to the whale than injure one side and 
pass out of the body again. 

To all appearances the shot had been a bull's eye, and the giant was 
even now resting on the bottom of the sea, limp with terror and excru 
ciating pain. Perhaps its whole belly had been ripped open! And up 
above, on the surface of the sea, the men tore and pulled on the line, 
enlarging the wound and increasing the whale's agonies. 

* "Row on and keep rowing," the helmsman shouted. Now they must 
locate the hiding place of the whale. Besides, a steady pull had to be 
exerted on the line so that the whale could not turn over and draw the 
boat under water. If this should happen, one quick motion must sever 
the line; a hatchet was held in readiness. Then the prey would be lost 
for ever. 

'What terrible tension this waiting meant! The kind of suspense that 
sets one's nerves a-tingle when some terrific danger looms near might 
be so racking as to be nigh unbearable but, at the same time, it furnishes 
good sport for hardy men. It seemed to Mala as if there was no end to 
their trying wait. The whale must have stored up a great amount of air 
in its lungs to last so long beneath the waves ! 

'Suddenly it appeared ! The line slackened with incredible speed. The 
whale rose quickly to the surface, plainly exhausted. The white men 
consulted their watches. Mala, looking at the sky, judged that the sun 
had travelled the breadth of two fingers since the whale had been har 
pooned. The water, spouting through the nostrils of the whale, was 
reddened with blood, proof that the lungs had been punctured and that 
the battle would be over soon. All at once, however, the whale rallied; 
it no longer seemed in the least exhausted. Now they must get close to 
the animal and hurl into his huge bulk additional harpoons in order to 
finish it off a dangerous job that required great care. 

'Carefully, they paddled close to the whale and again the beast was 
harpooned, this time with a smaller barbed spear. The animal hardly 


moved from the spot. As soon as the harpoon penetrated the body of 
the whale, the trigger line was pulled and there was an explosion open 
ing new wounds. And then it rushed ahead madly through the water, 
pulling along the boat at a terrific rate of speed. There was still strength 
in the King of the Seas. Northward the boat sped. Like wounded rein- 

Fic. 34. HAULING IN A WALRUS. (Drawn by Miss Harriette Akin after 0. T. Mason, 
The Human Beast of Burden.) 

deer in the snow, the whale left behind tracks, easy to discern. How 
brave this whale was! Now it made straight for the mountainous shore 
whence the hunters had come. . . . 

'Often a whale which is already considered a sure catch causes much 
trouble; in case the animal should take its course through fields of 
dangerous ice floes, the line must be severed to avoid disaster. Game 
and line and everything is lost then. This time, however, the whale 
gradually weakened, the men once more pulled at the oars and when the 
edge of the ice was reached, the King of the Seas was dead. It was Mala's 
boat which had made the first catch of the season. The skipper heaped 
unstinting praise upon the entire crew. . . . 

'The helmsman ordered one of the white sailors to hoist a red flag 
on a boat-hook, as a signal to the other boats that they had made a catch 
and needed assistance in cutting up the carcass.' v 

1 Peter Freuchen, Eskimo, trans. Branden, pp, 56-59. (Reprinted by permission 
of the Liveright Publishing Corporation.) 


Hunting the Buffalo 

The scene now shifts to the Plains Indians. During the years 1832- 
1839 an English traveller and artist, George Catlin, journeyed widely 
among the Indians of North America. Fortunately for us, he was pre 
vailed upon by friends to record his experiences in a series of letters 
and notes on the manners, customs, and condition of the North Ameri 
can Indians (this being the title of his two-volume work published in 
London in 1841). Although he often wrote loosely and always painted 
badly, his descriptions and drawings record much that in later years 
could only be gathered by reconstruction and speculation. Coming upon 
the Indians of the Plains at a time when the buffalo still roamed the 
grasslands in countless thousands, he was in a position to witness these 
intrepid hunters in their massed and devastating attacks on the animal 
in which the culture of the Plains was rooted. 2 I reproduce his descrip 
tion of a buffalo hunt of the kind known as a 'surround.' The tribes 
participating in this affair, the Minitarees (more com%ionly known as 
Hidatsa) and Mandan, constitute together with the Arikara the northern 
branch of the Siouan-speaking Indians of the eastern Plains, also called 
the Village tribes on account of the earth-lodge settlements or villages 
in which they lived when not following the buffalo. During these tribal 
hunts, on the other hand, they used the typical Plains tipis which, when 
camp was struck, were arranged in the form of the so-called Camp 
Circle. Follows Catlin's account: 

'The Minitarees, as well as the Mandans, had suffered for some months 
past for want of meat, and had indulged in the most alarming fears 
that the herds of buffalo were emigrating so far off from them that 
there was great danger of their actual starvation, when it was suddenly 
announced through the village one morning at an early hour that a 
herd of buffaloes was in sight. A hundred or more young men mounted 
their horses, with weapons in hand, and steered their course to the 
prairies. . . . 

'The plan of attack, which in this country is familiarly called a sur 
round, was explicitly agreed upon, and the hunters, who were all 
mounted on their "buffalo horses" and armed with bows and arrows 
or long lances, divided into two columns, taking opposite directions, 
and drew themselves gradually around the herd at a mile or more dis- 

2 For a more detailed sketch of Plains life, see pp. 171-172. 


tance from them, thus forming a circle of horsemen at equal distances 
apart, who gradually closed in upon them with a moderate pace at a 
signal given. The unsuspecting herd at length "got the wind" of the ap 
proaching enemy and fled in a mass in the greatest confusion. To the 
point where they were aiming to cross the line the horsemen were seen, 
at full speed, gathering and forming in a column, brandishing their 
weapons, and yelling in the most frightful manner, by which they 

turned the black and rushing mass, which 
moved off in an opposite direction, where 
they were again met and foiled in a similar 
manner, and wheeled back in utter confu 
sion ; by which time the horsemen had closed 
in from all directions, forming a continuous 
line around them, whilst the poor affrighted 
animals were eddying about in a crowded 
and confused mass, hooking and climbing 
upon each other, when the work of death 
commenced. I had rode up in the rear and 
occupied an elevated position at a few rods' 
distance, from which I could (like the gen 
eral of a battle-field) survey from my horse's 
FIG. 35. ESKIMO ARROW- 11^.1 i , P , 

STRAIGHTENS. (Drawn by back the nature and the Progress of the 
Miss Harriette Akin after grand melee, but (unlike him) without the 
Stefansson, op. cit.) power of issuing a command or in any way 

directing its issue. 

'In this grand turmoil a cloud of dust was soon raised, which in part 
obscured the throng where the hunters were galloping their horses 
around and driving the whizzing arrows or their long lances to the 
hearts of these noble animals; which in many instances, becoming in 
furiated with deadly wounds in their sides, erected their shaggy manes 
over their bloodshot eyes and furiously plunged forward at the sides 
of their assailants' horses, sometimes goring them to death at a lunge 
and putting their dismounted riders to flight for their lives. Sometimes 
their dense crowd was opened, and the blinded horsemen, too intent on 
their prey amidst the cloud of dust, were hemmed and wedged in amidst 
the crowding beasts, over whose backs they were obliged to leap for 
security, leaving their horses to the fate that might await them in the 
results of this wild and desperate war. Many were the bulls that turned 
upon their assailants and met them with desperate resistance, and many 
were the warriors who were dismounted and saved themselves by the 
superior muscles of their legs; some who were closely pursued by the 


bulls wheeled suddenly around, and snatching the part of a buffalo 
robe from around their waists, threw it over the horns and eyes of the 
infuriated beast, and darting by its side drove the arrow or the lance 
to its heart; others suddenly dashed off upon the prairie by the side 
of the affrighted animals which had escaped from the throng, and 
closely escorting them for a few rods, brought down their heart's blood 
in streams and their huge carcasses upon the green and enamelled turf. 


FIG. 36. THE CHEYENNE CAMP CIRCLE, (Wissler, op. cit., after Dorsey.) 

'In this way this grand hunt soon resolved itself into a desperate bat 
tle, and in the space of fifteen minutes resulted in the total destruction 
of the whole herd, which in all their strength and fury were doomed, 
like every beast and living thing else, to fall before the destroying 
hands of mighty man. 

*I had sat in trembling silence upon my horse and witnessed this ex 
traordinary scene, which allowed not one of these animals to escape 
out of my sight. Many plunged off upon the prairie for a distance, but 
were overtaken and killed, and although I could not distinctly estimate 
the number that were slain, yet I am sure that some hundreds of these 
noble animals fell in this grand melee. Amongst the poor affrighted 
creatures that had occasionally dashed through the ranks of their 
enemy and sought safety in flight upon the prairie (and in some in 
stances had undoubtedly gained it), I saw them stand awhile, looking 
back, when they turned, and, as if bent on their own destruction, re 
traced their steps, and mingled themselves and their deaths with those 


of the dying throng. Others had fled to a distance on the prairies, and 
for want of company, of friends or of foes, had stood and gazed on till 
the battle scene was over, seemingly taking pains to stay and hold their 
lives in readiness for their destroyers until the general destruction was 
over, when they fell easy victims to their weapons, making the slaugh 
ter complete.' 3 

After quoting the above passage of Catlin's, W. T. Hornaday makes 
the following remark: It is to be noticed that every animal of this en 
tire herd of several hundred was slain on the spot, and there is no 
room to doubt that at least half (possibly much more) of the meat thus 
taken was allowed to become a loss. People who are so utterly sense 
less as to wantonly destroy their own source of food, as the Indians 
have done, certainly deserve to starve. 5 4 

The statement of our author is charged with sinister irony. Catlin 
could not have foreseen, but Hornaday knew and described the havoc, 
complete and irretrievable, wrought among the bisons by the White 
hunters who by means of their rifles, backed up by a psychology no less 
savage nor more provident than that of the Indians, all but achieved 
that extermination of this indigenous American animal which had been 
begun by the Indians 5 (Fig. 37). 

A Maori Fishing Expedition 

For an illustration of primitive fishing operations on a large scale 
let me now turn to the Maori. In his valuable book, Primitive Economics 

8 George Catlin, Letters and Notes etc., pp. 199-201. 

4 The Extermination of the American Bison/ Smithsonian Report, U. S. National 
Museum, 1887, p. 482. 

5 Nor was the surround the only devastating method employed in hunting down 
the buffalo. There was also the 'still hunt,' in which a single hunter, armed with 
a repeating rifle and shooting from ambush, could lay low dozens of buffalo almost 
at will. Hornaday mentions a certain 'Capt. Jack Brydges, of Kansas, who was one 
of the first to begin the final slaughter of the southern herd, who killed, by con 
tract, one thousand one hundred and forty-two buffaloes in six weeks.' Another 
method was chasing the buffalo on horseback or 'running buffalo.' This was an 
exciting procedure, full of danger, not alone for the hunted animal, but for the 
hunter and his mount as well. When practised by the Indians, before the intro 
duction of the repeating rifle, it gave the buffalo an almost fair chance. The lance 
or bow and arrow could be used effectively only at close range. This implied 
dangerous proximity to the powerful creatures, as well as numerous opportunities 
for a fall with its attending hazards. All this changed with the coming of tjie 
modern rifle and the Colt's revolver. The latter, in particular, proved vastly 
superior even to the rifle. Held in one hand, it could be fired with greater precision 
than a rifle, which required the use of both hands. Shooting with a rifle from the 
back of a galloping horse is no easy matter. It was his skill at this particular 


iii Boundary of the area once 

inhabited by the buffalo, 
-"" Approximate boundary be 
tween the area of deiultpry 
extirpation and that of sya* 
tematic destruction, for robes 
and hides. 

A Area of gradual extermina 
tion by desultory methods, 

B Area of wholesale slaughter 
by systematic methods. 


_ Range O f i wo great herds 
in 1870, 

Range of the herds jn 1880, 

" l "" ' Range of the scattered sur 
vivors of the souther?? herd 
in 1875, after the great slaugh 
ter of 1870-73, 
i Range of the northern herd 

in 1884, af ter-the great slaugh 
ter of 1880-83. 

"Figures represent the locality and number 
of .wild buffalo in exigence January 1,1889. 

Extermination of the American Bison.) 



of the New Zealand Maori,, Raymond Firth reproduces the following 
condensed account from a sketch given by Captain Gilbert Mair of a 
spectacular fishing display made in the year 1886 by Chief Te Pokiha 
with his great fishing net. The operation of one of these enormous nets 
was a complicated affair requiring participation of many individuals 
and competent direction as well. The account runs as follows : 

'The net used in this affair was a huge one, measuring by veracious 
report, 95 chains in length. It was made at Maketu during the winter 
months of 1885, by several hundred of Ngati-Pikiao of Arawa, on the 
initiative of their chief, Te Pokiha Raranui. The net was taken in sections 
to a flat below the village and was there set up with appropriate magic 
by the learned old men of the tribe. It was of such a size that no single 
canoe would hold it, and it was therefore taken out on a platform placed 
over two war canoes lashed together, the whole being propelled by thirty 
men. The control of the enterprise was in the hands of one Te Whanarere, 
an expert in fishing, who in order best to supervise the workers, ascended 
to the top of a high telegraph tower near by, and thence gave out his 
commands. Shoal after shoal of fish he allowed to pass untouched, while 
crew and waiting crowd grew impatient, but the old man was wise in 
the lore of fish and nets. At last he gave the signal to encircle what ap 
peared to be an insignificant brown patch on the water. "Haukotia mai!" 
came his cry: "Intercept it!" The paddles dipped furiously, the craft 
forged along, and the net was paid out by six men. After the shoal was 
encircled a great portion of the net was still unused, but nevertheless it 
was found impossible to haul the seine, in spite of the large numbers of 
people who hauled on the ropes. The catch was too great. The unused 
part of the net was now doubled round the remainder, and the expert 
came down from the tower and swam out to attend to the work. Under his 
direction the men hoisted the belly of the net, and so allowed a large part 
of the catch to escape. This was done twice, and only then could the seine 
be hauled in to the beach. It was held there by stakes driven firmly in, 
and the tide allowed to fall. Meanwhile, owing to the tapu, the people 
were not allowed to partake of food which certainly tended to focus 
their interest on the work! The resulting catch numbered many thou- 

exploit that earned the late W. F. Cody his -world-famous nickname, 'Buffalo Bill.' 
Still another method was 'impounding 5 or killing in pens. This device enjoyed 
great popularity among the Indians, as it involved the co-operation of men, 
women, and children, appropriately stationed over a great distance, all intent on 
driving the herd toward the pen. Once the animals had entered the enclosure, they 
could do no more than chase about, wildly and aimlessly, until they were all 
killed. The methods of hunting here enumerated are but a sample of a much 
greater variety employed against the buffalo. 


sands of fish, and its apportionment was supervised by Te Pokiha him 
self.' 6 

m ft* 

Domestication and Cultivation 

At certain points in the history of the food quest, of labour, transpor 
tation, and warfare, certain inventions supervened, perhaps not too often, 
which placed man in a position of an even greater dominance over nature 
than he had heretofore enjoyed. With this dominance came greater com 
fort, security, power, and an almost unlimited range of further opportu 
nities for development. The two inventions, or more correctly, complexes 
of inventions I have in mind are, of course, the domestication of animals 
and the cultivation of plants. The wild animal or bird can be of use to 
man only after its life has been destroyed. To achieve this, it must be 
hunted, cornered or caught, and killed. Then it, or parts of it, can be used 
as food, clothing, or ornament. The animal as a source of power or of 
other useful qualities does not figure in this connection. The domesticated 
animal loses its freedom and some of its quality, but not all of it. It may 
now be employed as a source of energy, as a tool of speed, or as a 
reservoir of useful properties which under domestication may become 
greatly enhanced with special reference to the needs of man. 

In connection with domestication, we have already had occasion to be 
come acquainted with the dog, man's all but ubiquitous companion, help 
mate, and friend. Let me repeat here that the domestication of the dog, 
however, wherever, and whenever it was achieved, must be regarded as a 
very ancient event in the history of culture, preceding that of the do 
mestication of any other animal) This is attested by the almost universal 
distribution of the dog including even the most primitive tribes. 7 

The degree of domestication of this animal is not by any means always 
the same. In Australia, for example, the dingo may be described as only 
half domesticated. Around the camp he is very much in evidence both 

6 Raymond Firth, Primitive Economics of the New Zealand Maori, pp. 214-215. 
(Reprinted by permission of George Routledge and Sons, Ltd.) 

* All original dogs have been derived from native wolves or some wolf -like 
animals, perhaps going back to a common Asiatic ancestor. Under the deliberate 
and non-deliberate artifices of a cultured existence, the race of dogs has multiplied 
and become diversified enormously in size, shape, and quality. This notwithstand 
ing, as old Eduard Hahn once pointed out, a dog has remained a dog, a fact of 
which humans are at least vaguely aware, but which to dogs is a matter of ut 
most certainty. An enormous St. Bernard or Newfoundland, when confronted with 
a diminutive Spaniel or lap dog, knows that he is in the presence of one of his kind. 


numerically and vocally. Being a dog he barks, 8 with reason or with 
out, and to this extent he is of some use to the native as a messenger of 
trouble or anything else that may be happening. Again as dog, or we 
might say as wolf, he will go along on the hunt, but he has not in Aus 
tralia been trained in any of those niceties of the hunting dog's behavioui 
which we find among other primitives or in modern days. Also, he is 
not fed. As a result, he frequently looks and is underfed, and puppies in 
Australia often die prematurely for this reason. 

In America, we find the dog utilized for transportation among the 
Plains Indians, where he pulls the travels (see p. 67, Fig. 7) , and among 
the Eskimo where, as we already know, he is employed for pulling the 
sled. Previously I have described the peculiar niceties and difficulties of 
the latter situation among the Eskimo. As a watch dog and hunting com 
panion, the dog is employed, more or less effectively, among a great 
many tribes. 

The dog apart, domestication must be recognized as a cultural feature 
of the Old World. In the two Americas, the only well developed case of 
domestication is that of the llama of the Peruvian area. 9 In the Old World, 
on the other hand, we find the ancient domestication of the horse, cattle, 
camel, donkey, goat, sheep, pig, chicken, and elephant (half -domesticated 
in India and Indo-China) . The South Sea Islanders have learned (prob 
ably independently) to domesticate the pig, and they have readily ab 
sorbed the domesticated chicken from the Whites. Native Africa abounds 
in domesticated animals: sheep, goats, donkeys, cattle, and in the North, 
horses and camels, the latter two certainly of Asiatic derivation. The 
breeding, herding, and tending of cattle must be recognized as one of 
the basic socio-economic institutions of Negro Africa, a subject to which 
I shall return (p. 153). 

Just as the domestication of animals made it possible for man to use 
them as tools, hence as a source of power, so the cultivation of plants 
greatly enlarged the role played by the vegetable kingdom in human 

8 It is interesting to note that wolves or wild dogs do not bark: they howl. 
Barking, in other words, is itself a symbol of domestication. It is a sort of cultured 
or humanized howl. 

8 The words 'well developed' are important here. For there were numerous ap 
proaches to domestication. The Pueblo Indians kept eagles in cages and even 
reared turkeys. In the California-Oregon region, birds, especially those of striking 
plumage, were frequently caged, then plucked and liberated. Limited bee culture 
occurred in a number of tribes. The Indians of the North and Northwest often 
kept bears, foxes, and other animals as pets. The dog, however, and the llama 
were the only ones to be systematically bred in capitivity and made to do work 
for man, and of the two the llama, as stated, was restricted to a relatively narrow 


economy and industry. Cultivation is basically rooted in the sowing of 
the seed of whatever plant may be involved, preceded by one or another 
sort of preparation of the soil for the reception of the seed, from the 
making of a mere hole in the ground by means of a digging stick to a 
surface loosening of the soil with a hoe and a systematic turning of the 
soil, to a considerable depth, by means of a plough. 10 Cultivation 
makes possible a more ready accumulation of substantial quantities of 
food at a given place and time. It also enhances the possibilities of food 
storage for future use. In a still broader perspective, cultivation invites 
sedentary habits of life. 

In certain primitive areas, a kind of agriculture exists which fails to 
qualify as such, in the full sense of the word. I refer to the so-called 
'garden culture' of the Kwakiutl Indians, a form of cultivation highly 
developed among the Melanesians and Polynesians. The difference from 
agriculture proper here lies in the fact that the tending of whatever plant 
may be involved clover among the Kwakiutl, taro, etc., among the South 
Sea Islanders consists largely in weeding out the garden patches and 
protecting them from intrusion by means of fences of some soil but does 
not include the sowing of the seed. 11 True agriculture occurs in the two 
Americas in an enormous and practically continuous area of distribution 
(see pp. 400, n. 17, 456) , 12 It is practised in the grassy plains of Africa, 

10 In the sequel, I shall have occasion to point out that the plough does not belong 
to primitive agriculture in the narrower sense. It does not generally occur in 
Africa, although it is known in the northeastern area where it can be shown to 
be of Asiatic origin. 

11 When local techniques are examined with sufficient care, a differentiation of 
primitive agriculture into hoe culture and digging-stick culture proves only par 
tially adequate. On the basis of his intensive study of agricultural methods in 
Central America, on the one hand, and in the Melanesian-Polynesian area, on the 
other, K. Sapper distinguishes the planting-stick culture of the former from the 
digging-stick culture of the South Sea Islanders. The digging stick is a more 
substantial tool than the planting stick, being approximately twice as wide in 
cross-section. No real loosening of the soil is effected by the planting stick ; instead, 
it is merely used to make a hole in the ground, which, after deposition of the plant, 
is lightly covered with loose earth. Much more is accomplished with the digging 
stick. In preparation for a single taro shoot, the ground is loosened with the digging 
stick to a depth of ten inches and over a surface some eight inches in diameter. 
Then the shoot is deposited and the soil somewhat pressed down about it. (K. 
Sapper, 'Some Notes on Primitive Agriculture,' Globus, Vol. XCVII, 1910, p. 346; 
in German.) 

12 The vast majority of plants put under cultivation by the American Indians 
were indigenous in the New World in pre-Columbian days, and foreign to the Old 
World. According to Spinden, the only two exceptions to this were the common 
gourd, Lagenaria vulgaris, and the closely related family of species known as 
cotton, gossypium. Both of these were common to the Old and the New World in 
1500. These plants can be readily distributed by wind and water and must have 
come to the New World from the Old in one of these ways. In Mexico and Peru, 


in India, Indonesia, the Malay Archipelago, and certain parts of the 
Philippine Islands. More often than not, primitive agriculture is woman's 
work, a rule to which there are some exceptions. In Africa, agriculture 
and herding co-exist in many tribes, whereas the persons who engage in 
these pursuits constitute distinct social classes, the herders or breeders 
usually appearing as the higher class, the agricultural peasants, as the 
lower one. ia 

As a sample of agricultural activity among the North American In 
dians, let me now say a few words about the Iroquois-speaking tribes of 
the Great Lakes region in northwestern New York and southeastern 
Canada. These tribes were already located in the above region at the 
discovery of America, although in ultimate derivation they may perhaps 
have migrated from farther South. We are in possession of many at 
times detailed descriptions of Iroquoian life dating as far back as the six 
teenth century and comprised in the so-called Jesuit Relations. Towards 
the middle of that century, five of these tribes formed a confederacy 
usually referred to as the League of the Iroquois. 14 In the beginning of 
the eighteenth century, one of the Iroquois-speaking tribes, the Tus- 
carora, who had previously resided in North Carolina, migrated north 
and was incorporated with the other tribes of the League to which it 
was related both linguistically and culturally. 

The^ Iroquois, though always practising hunting with skill and enthusi 
asm, were in the main agriculturists. They cultivated on a large scale the 

where agriculture was highly developed, the principal cultivated plants were maize, 
bean, and squash, as well as the sweet potato, Ipomcea batatas (Aztec earned}, 
chile (Aztec), Capsicum annuum, and the tomato, Lycopersicum esculentum 
(Aztec tomatl), the last two only in Mexico. Cacao, theobroma cacao (from Aztec 
cacauatl) was known in Mexico, Central and South America, and the West Indies. 
When ground, this fruit seed was made into a drink known as chocolatL Among 
the several plants cultivated by the Peruvians the most common were the potato 
(see p. 400, footnote 17) and the peanut. In the valleys of the Amazon, Orinoco, and 
Plata, maize, beans, and squashes were cultivated, maize here ceding first place to 
manioc or cassava, of which two species were in use, one with a poisonous juice 
(see p. 123, footnote 4), the other harmless. Tobacco, of several species, was widely 
cultivated in both continents. In North America maize was the staple crop, usually 
associated with beans and squashes. In a complete enumeration a number of semi- 
cultivated trees, of economic value, would have to be added to this list. Spinden 
estimates that the annual value, for the United States alone, of the plants brought 
under cultivation by the Indians amounts to some three billion dollars. (H. J. 
Spinden, 'The Origin and Distribution of Agriculture in America,' Nineteenth In 
ternational Congress of Americanists, pp. 271-276.) 

18 It is certain that the combination of agriculture and herding characteristic of 
so many African tribes has been the result of the mixture of pastoral and agricul 
tural tribesmen, although in many particular instances the historical information 
is lacking by which this reconstruction could be substantiated. 

14 For other data on the League, see p. 334. 


bean, squash, and especially the green corn or maize. 15 The Jesuits tell us 
of the vastness of their fields and the ample granaries found by them 
among these people. As the region occupied by the Iroquois was a wooded 
one, the first stage in agriculture consisted in the clearing of the forests, 
a task of considerable proportions and difficulty in view of the poor 
technical equipment of the natives who could only dispose of the stone 
ax. This necessitated the adoption of a special procedure. A ring of 
bark encircling ' the tree was cut off with the ax, then the tree was per 
mitted to stand, die, and dry for about a year, whereupon it was chopped 
down, the residual trunk being softened somewhat on the surface by a 
fire started about the base of the tree, the upper portion of which was 
prevented from catching fire by water being thrown at it. The latter 
function was performed by women, although the other operations con 
nected with the removal of trees were done by the men. After the field 
was cleared, the agricultural activities were taken over by the women 
exclusively. They worked in the field, organized in a so-called 'working 
bee,' usually under the leadership of a woman supervisor. While thus 
engaged, the women frequently tugged along their babies, securely 
strapped to wooden carrying boards, which were as a rule hung up on 
branches of trees at the outskirts of the field, where the cradles could 
be seen swinging in the breeze while the women were labouring in the 

These agricultural activities stood in the very centre of the social and 
ceremonial life of these tribes and deeply affected their mythological 
ideas. The presiding deities of the Iroquois were the Three Sisters ('Our 
Mothers') , the Bean, the Squash, and the Corn. About these female deities 
and the plants which they represented centred the seasonal ceremonies 
in the form of the Bean Festival, the Squash Festival, and the Corn Festi 
val, the last and most important of the three taking place about the month 
of September when the corn stood ripe in the fields ready for harvest 
ing. Similar festivals were held at the time when the berries, such as 
strawberries and raspberries, ripened in the woods and were picked and 
brought into the village. In the course of these ceremonies which were 
somewhat uniform in their general structure, prayers were addressed 
to the gods, in particular the Three Sisters referred to above, to whom 
praise was given for past favours, and supplications were addressed for 
their continuance in the future. Many features of the social life of the 

15 Some fifteen or sixteen varieties of corn were distinguished by the Iroquois, 
and they used perhaps as many as forty recipes for the preparation of corn. The 
dishes made of beans and squashes were similarly diversified. (For details see 
F. W. Waugh, Iroquois Foods and Food Preparation,' Memoir 86, No, 12, An 
thropological Series, Geological Survey, Canada.) 


Iroquois with which we shall become familiar later on suggest that the 
great influence enjoyed by women in Iroquoian society is largely to be 
traced to their importance in tribal economy in their capacity as agri 
cultural workers. 

How the different forms of the food quest are to be conceived in rela 
tion to their history and succession in the development of human economy 
is a separate problem to which I shall return in a later chapter (see 
p. 512). 


does not concretely and objectively work, it is a failure as an invention. 
Then indeed we may designate it as sheer phantasy or romance, but no 
longer as an invention. It is this combination of creative originality, as 
spiritual and ideal as any, with the requirements of matter-of-factness 
and operative worth, which constitutes the earmark of inventing and 
inventions. Among the various tools and devices of primitive man, some 
discussed in the preceding, others still to be mentioned, there is abundant 
evidence of the operation of the inventive faculty. As we saw again and 
again, man is the tool-maker, but he is not born with his tools as are 
animals with their organic determinants. The tools are not given him : he 
must conjure them up and, in doing so, he must be guided not by phantasy 
alone but by the conditions, requirements, and limitations of the given 
situation. A prayer or ~magical incantation works as long as its user be 
lieves in it. In other words, its operation or effectiveness is a matter of 
conviction or faith. Not so a mechanical tool: no tool works or can work 
by faith. Unless it is a fit tool, it will not work. And when we say that it 
is fit, what is meant is that it works and that it does so in the setting of 
the operative characteristics of those materials and the matter-of-fact re 
quirements of those processes which constitute the proper and appointed 
field of the tool. In this spirit man conceived and created his tools, and 
when he saw that they worked he knew that they were indeed tools, or 
at least he accepted them as such. 

This, then, is the field of invention. At first there was no artificial 
fire in the world. The only fire man knew was that produced by the forces 
of nature without his participation, such as a fire brought about by a 
stroke of lightriing, or the burning forest or prairie of whatever origin. 
When man wanted or, more accurately, needed fire, he did not have it. 
I say 'needed' rather than 'wanted,' for the chances are that he did not 
know that he wanted it until he first had it. How then, it may be asked, 
did he ever come to invent those devices which made the making of fire 

The answer is, unpremeditated discovery. An analysis of the different 
methods of making fire, by sawing, drilling, or striking, reveals the fact 
that one or another kind of friction is involved in each case. Now fric 
tion, whether deliberately induced for a purpose or not, will on occasion 
produce smoke, a spark, and hence fire. The observation of such natural 
origination of fire must have been made by man frequently enough. This 
was not an invention but a discovery. A discovery, let it be noted, is not 
a mere observation. To see something is not a discovery; however, if 
what you see is noted as something worth seeing, it may qualify as a dis 
covery. The discovery, again, is not yet an invention. To have seen fire 


naturally produced is not equivalent to being able to produce it arti 
ficially. It is only when the discovery is harnessed and made to do man's 
bidding that it becomes an invention. And it is here thai the objective 
characteristics and limitations of the matter-of-fact world must be taken 
into consideration. Unless this is done, the discovery will prove in vain 
and the invention abortive. Let me add to this that primitive man, though 
well if not accurately informed about many matters, is eminently 
concrete-minded in his knowledge. Of science he has the unorganized 
beginnings, but of scientific theory, not even that. Being innocent of any 
insight into what we call principles or laws, as in mechanics, the use 
he made of his noted observations was purely empirical. 

The cruder methods of making fire by sawing or drilling are further 
improved by an additional invention in the pump drill of the Iroquois 
and other tribes, or the bow drill of the Eskimo and the Pacific Coast 
Indians. Thus an unbroken continuity of revolutions is assured and speed 
increased. Wherever we look at the field of material culture, it bristles 
with inventions. Take, for example, a canoe. The fact that it is narrow 
and long is not casual but significant: it stands for lightness, speed, and 
manageability. There is no reason to think that this shape occurred to 
man when he made his first canoe, or whatever that thing was. There is 
no a priori reason why man should have attempted to navigate the waters 
in an article shaped thus rather than otherwise. In other words, this 
particular shape, a combination of narrowness with relative length, which 
has long since become the well-nigh universal attribute of all artificial 
floating things, must have been discovered as desirable, because adequate 
to the requirements, not through any pre-existing knowledge or theory, 
but by sheer observation, accidental and uninduced. The oar or paddle, 
in all its particulars as well as in its articulation with the boat, repre 
sents an invention; so does the fishing hook which, as we saw, has an 
enormous distribution in the primitive world. The purpose of a hook is 
to hook on to things, and this it does admirably. It is one thing, however, 
to have a fish on the hook and another to pull it out of the water with 
it, especially when the fish is unwilling. Thus many a fish must have been 
lost before a barbed hook was invented, the same being true of the barbed 
arrow or spear head. When thus perfected the point is the entering wedge 
for the weapon ; the barb, on the other hand, impedes its exit. This being 
what the occasion required, the barb, as an invention, proved adequate. 1 

1 1 might add that the formulation here presented in which invention is coupled 
with discovery, need not be taken as a theoretical dogma, implying the universality 
or inevitability of the application of this principle. Granted familiarity with the 
relevant processes and man's capacity for imagining new combinations, it is after 
all conceivable that here and there inventions were made by a mind unfertilized 



The composite harpoon of the Eskimo wears the unmistakable ear 
marks of an invention or of a series of inventions. Though spear-like 
articles may be picked up in nature, it knows no composite spears or har 
poons. Now this is precisely what a harpoon is: a composite spear. In 
this case the history of the article being, as usual, unknown the 
origin of the device seems fairly plausible. The utilization of a spear for 
fishing is of course widespread, and we are safe in assuming that the an 
cient Eskimo used this weapon for hunting aquatic mammals. These crea 
tures are powerful and not to be downed by one spear wound, nor may 
victory be expected until the hunter has had a chance to throw at least 
a second spear. And so the idea arose of pre 
serving contact with the spear, and hence the 
animal, by attaching it to the hunter by means 
of a thong held in the left hand while the 
spear was thrown with the right. When this 
scheme was put into operation, it would no 
doubt often happen that the spear, subjected 
to the double pull of the animal and the 
thong, would break when the animal at 
tempted to escape, with the result, once more, 
of the hunter's losing his catch. It is in this 
situation that some ingenious Eskimo may 
have thought of making a spear or harpoon 
operate as a unit by fashioning it in two or 
m ore parts in the first place, and then con- 
necting the parts in such a way that they 
could separate under pressure, without break- Andaman Islanders.) 
age. When this had been carried out the invention was accomplished, 
for now the tension to which the harpoon was subjected led it to separate 
along the points of articulation, as determined by its structure. 2 The 
most important part, namely the point, now imbedded in the animal, 

by appropriate discoveries. Whether and when this happened among primitives it 
is, of course, impossible to determine, in view of our scant knowledge of the his 
tory of primitive inventions. We do, however, know from modern evidence that the 
process of mental experimentation is not unknown among inventors, rare though it 
naturally is. Whatever the psychology, let me add, the final test of any invention 
is its behaviour in a concrete material situation. Only after this test has been suc 
cessfully passed is the invention recognized as such. 

2 A. R. Radcliffe-Brown describes a composite harpoon among the Andamanese 
(The Andaman Islanders, pp. 441-442). Here it consists of two parts, shaft and 
point, the latter detachable and as among the Eskimo provided with a thong 
held by the hunter. It is used for hunting turtles and dugongs, aquatic mammals 
ranging about eight feet in length. Like situation, like invention (see Fig. 38L 


A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, The 


preserved its contact with the hunter by means of the thong attached 
to it and held tight by the hunter. A gigantic creature, like the whale, 
would in such a case pull the hunter and his boat along with him, a 
lively process but not necessarily a fatal one to the hunter. In due time 
the latter could repeat his attack, and not infrequently, victory was his in 
the end. In the case of a smaller animal, like the seal, the thong is suffi 
cient to prevent it from escaping very far, and when it returns to the origi 
nal breathing hole for air, the hunter has little trouble in dispatching it. 
Now this, of course, is not history but an historical hypothesis, but barring 
details, it does not seem to be a rash one. 3 (See pp. 87-88 and Fig. 27) . 

Another invention is the feathered attachment to the shafts of arrows, 
which in some instances runs parallel to the sides of the shaft, in others 
is spiral with reference to the shaft, which makes it even more effective 
in so far as a screw-like motion is thereby communicated to the arrow. 
As a consequence, such an arrow bores its way through the air, as it 
were, and then similarly through the flesh, making a formidable wound. 
The German psychologist, Wilhelm Wundt, was inclined to ascribe this 
invention to magical analogy, the arrow, first identified with a bird, being 
constructed so as vaguely to resemble one. The greater success of such 
arrows may then have led to the perfecting of the device. This roundabout 
way of arriving at the result, via magic, though conceivable, is to my 
mind unnecessary in this instance. A feather might easily chance into 
this position, say as a decorative attachment to the counterweight placed 
here to balance the point This would provide the necessary condition for 
the pregnant discovery. 

A good illustration of the relation between invention and discovery is 
provided by the release used in traps among many different tribes, the 
operative item consisting in a sapling bent out of its natural position and 
attached to a part of the release mechanism (Fig. 39). The pull of the 
bent sapling provides the necessary tension to keep the device in equi- 

8 Obviously enough, the ball-and-socket device connecting the point with the 
middle part of the composite shaft is a later development or invention, plausibly 
reducible to the discovery that two objects placed in such a position and subjected 
to friction, as the position of one with reference to the other varies, will tend to 
develop a ball-and-socket-like surface of contact. Once such an observation was 
made, a deliberate shaping of the two pieces into a ball-and-socket form was an 
easy next step in technique. The fact that two objects in this position will tend to 
develop such an articulating surface is proved by the presence of the ball-and-socket 
feature in bones, human and animal. Example : the hip joint. No directing mind can 
be assumed here, nor can it be held that two bones thus juxtaposed possessed the 
ball-and-socket feature from the beginning: it was formed mechanically through 
the continual pressure at the point of contact of the two bones placed in such a 
dynamic situation. Another possibility is that some Eskimo observed this very fact 
on a human or animal skeleton, and applied the discovery to the harpoon. 



librium until the crucial moment of the release arrives. How, it will be 
asked, might the idea of a tree acting in this fashion occur to anyone? 
The answer in this case is at hand. In walking through the jungle many 
a savage must have had the experience of being struck in the face by a 
branch dislocated by a man walking ahead of him. Here then was 
an observation which brought home the fact that a branch or young 
tree, when bent out of position, presents power. Subsequently, when the 
hunter needed a source of power to replace himself in conjunction with a 

FIG. 39. TRAP OF KALAHARI BUSHMEN. (Drawn by Miss Harriette Akin.) 

trap, he thought of the tree and made use of it, fitting its energy into the 
operative situation. 

All the inventions here mentioned and numerous other ones of the 
same general kind refer to the most primitive conditions; still others, 
associated with the cultures of more advanced tribes, became responsi 
ble for the art of smelting metals and the different devices employed in 
the domestication of animals and the cultivation of plants. 4 

4 The staple food-plant of South America is cassava or manioc, which, for best 
results, requires a somewhat dry, sandy soil. It was not cultivated along the moist 
Andean coast but was in general use in the eastern section of the continent, either 
alone or in combination with maize. In its natural state cassava contains a poisonous 
juice unfitting it for consumption. For this reason a special method of preparation 
had to be adopted. First the cassava is grated, the resulting mess being gathered in 
a container, called 'cassava canoe.' Then the 'cassava squeezer' or matapi comes 
into use. The device is made of plaited itiviti strands (Fig. 39a, I). 'It is next 
hung up by the collar [Fig. 39a, 2] on to a suitable projecting beam [a], while a 
strong pole [6], passed through the ankle ring, is tucked under a fork made by tying 
a strong stick [c] at an acute angle to a house post [J]. The pole acts as a lever, the 
fork as the fulcrum. By the woman throwing her whole weight, usually sitting, on 



It may be observed here incidentally that the operative conditions, or 
the uses to which an article is to be put, often provide limiting conditions 
which in a sense predetermine the technical solution, thus leading to 
comparable results whenever such a solution is reached. Take, for ex- 


sits here 

FIG. 39a. MAT API, OR CASSAVA SQUEEZER. ("Walter E. Roth, *An 
Introductory study of the Arts, Crafts and Customs of the Guiana 
Indians,' 38th Report, Bureau of American Ethnology, pp. 277-299.) 

ample, an oar. Abstractly speaking an oar can be long or short, light 
or heavy, circular in cross-section or flat, wide or narrow, of even width 
throughout its length or otherwise; also it can be made of more than one 
material. Now, in accordance with local conditions or chance, most of 
these shapes and materials may have been used for oars at one time or 

the free end of the pole, the matapi is extended, its diameter consequently diminished, 
the contents squeezed, and the poisonous juice, which is expressed through the inter 
stices of the plait, allowed to run down and drip into a vessel placed beneath to 
collect it.' (Roth, op. cit. under Fig. 39a.) 


another and a variety are still being used in a pinch, including even the 
human arms when a rower or paddler permits his tool to slip into the 
water and, perhaps, be carried off by the current, leaving him stranded 
in his boat. But if you want a good oar and this is what at length you do 
want the end result is limited by the conditions of use. The oar must not 
be so short as not to reach the water, or only barely so, nor must it be too 
long, for that would make it too heavy or clumsy as a lever; it must not 
be so heavy as to impede its operation, nor so light as to cut off the re 
sistance it should offer in a measured rhythmic movement. It must not, 
finally, be either brittle or pliable, for this would unfit it for use against 
a dense resisting medium. The manner again in which an oar is used, 
which is the only manner in which it can be effectively used in a sitting 
position, precludes uniformity of shape throughout its length. The blade, 
in order to offer proper resistance to the water and thus induce propul 
sion, must be either flat or preferably somewhat curved longitudinally 
and laterally, like a shallow spoon open at the end, with the concavity 
facing in the direction opposite to the movement of the boat. Anyone 
who has tried to row a boat with a stick will know what is meant here. 
The butt end of the oar, on the other hand, must be adjusted to manipu 
lation: preferably it should not be flat or angular but more or less circu 
lar in cross-section. Also it must not be too bulky for a firm, grip nor too 
slight, or it would tend to slip during rowing. The middle section of the 
oar is the connecting link between the blade and the butt; its length is 
determined by the proper length of the oar; it must be strong enough 
to withstand the stresses, and so on. It is desirable, finally, that the oar be 
made of a material that could float, so that the oar could be readily 
recovered from the water. The limitations here imposed by the conditions 
of use are so drastic that every oar is emphatically an oar, implying 
numerous points of similarity between all oars. 5 

The same point applies to numerous other objects, such as canoes, 
knives, pots, releases in traps, hooks, knots, and so on and on. In all 
these instances the technical conditions of use are bound to result in 
similarities, more or less precise, in the objects designed to solve the 
technical problem. If the situation allowed of only one solution, the 
object solving it would always be identical. This, of course, is a limiting 
case. The fewer the possibilities, at any rate, the more likely are similar 
solutions. As a general result of this principle it is to be expected that 
many objects or devices, independently invented in different parts of the 

5 See my 'Limiting Possibilities in the Development of Culture' (History, Psy 
chology, and Culture, pp. 44-46). 


world and in different tribes, will in certain particulars be more or less 
similar. It is well to remember this point when we come to the discussion 
of cultural similarities in their relation to diffusion (see p. 470). 

It is customary to restrict the term 'invention' to objects or devices. 
While no objection need be offered to this terminological limitation, it 
should be understood that from a psychological as well as a mechanical 
standpoint, the concept 'invention,' with precisely the same connotation, 
is not less applicable to processes than to things, processes executed 
by means of tools or by the hands alone. The boat-maker, basket-weaver, 
wood-carver, carpenter, smith, acrobat, dancer, typist, all employ cer 
tain sets of motions to achieve certain desired technical results with speed 
and accuracy. These motions are themselves subject to certain technical 
limitations inherent in the operative situation, but they will be found to 
differ, more or less, as between person and person, with results, perhaps, 
equally good, or bad, or with varying results. It is well known that a 
tennis player who has not learned, in the very beginning of his career, 
the proper grips and positions required by what is called 'form,' is likely 
to find his game fatally handicapped. Similarly, when a typist acquires 
the habit of striking the keyboard with one or two fingers, he is well on 
the way to becoming a poor typist. Now, all these technical achievements 
can be taught and are being taught by those possessing the technique to 
others who are learning it. At the same time, we know from experience 
that the student, though frequently adopting certain peculiarities of the 
master's technique, also develops certain individual adjustments. Such 
adjustments or grips or shifts become crystallized as 'motor habits' 
(Boas) and presently come to operate automatically; so much so that the 
operator is usually incapable of analyzing what precisely it is he is doing 
or giving an account of his operations. Probing into the matter further, 
we discover that such motor habits were dynamic inventions before they 
became habits. They have about them the earmarks of an invention, in 
so far as a new element is introduced in this case a 'position' or motion, 
not a thing and fitted into a mechanical, therefore, operative and 
matter-of-fact, situation so that it works and accomplishes the desired re^ 
suit. The case, I repeat, is strictly parallel to that encountered in the 
invention of objects or devices, with the only difference that the some 
thing invented is not an object but a process. It is interesting to note, in 
this connexion, that these 'dynamic inventions/ having originated from 
numerous shifts and counter-shifts in the midst of a moving mechanical 
complex, seldom rise into consciousness except occasionally at the point 
where they make their first appearance. Even by a deliberate act of will 
one does not readily succeed in lifting a motor habit, routinized dynamic 


invention, into the light of awareness. For this reason the teaching of 
techniques consists to a large extent in the presentation of examples to 
be followed, rather than in verbal directions of what one is to do. Anyone 
who would rely on verbal instruction in teaching a novice how to skate, 
play billiards, thread a needle, or handle a saw, is almost bound to fail. 
His example, on the contrary, may well enhance the rapidity of the 
learning process. 'Let me show you how' expresses the pedagogy of these 

Primitive and Modern Inventions 

It is customary in our mechanical age to think of ourselves, our time, 
and Western civilization in the light of invention. We feel that we are the 
inventors pur excellence and regard mechanical inventions as the very 
corner-stone of modern culture. To a degree all this is very true. On the 
other hand and in the context of this book, it will be useful to consider 
not only the differences but the similarities between modern and primitive 
invention. The similarities here are considerable. First comes inventive 
ness itself as a psychological trait, that variety of creativeness which re 
ceives its particular stamp from its practical-mindedness. In this respect, 
as we saw, man differs very markedly from the animal, but as between 
man and man, all seem to have it without distinction of race but with a 
marked variability in individual endowment. We do not know, it is true, 
the precise limits of this variability. Here, as in all similar instances, the 
difficulty of drawing a sharp line between first and second nature seems 
insuperable, but that there is such individual variability in mechanical 
gifts can scarcely be doubted. Some people are born with mechanical 
fingers while those of others are 'dead' ; some can almost be said to see 
with their finger-tips, whereas others cannot use them even when they 
see with their eyes. Within these extreme limits there are other variations 
which, as I said, we cannot with any degree of assurance allocate as in 
born or acquired, but it seems certain that such differences between 
individuals are not restricted to modern man but characterized mankind 
from the beginning. This statement applies equally to what may more 
accurately be described as a talent for manipulation, and to that more 
specifically psychic quality of inventiveness of which we spoke before. 
At the same time it is important to realiz^ that the inventor, as a profes 
sional, is not present among primitives. IWe know of no primitive indi 
viduals ; who devote themselves wholly or even largely to invention as 
such. This is both a cause and a consequence of the fact that inventions 
among primitives are few and far between. Apart from the presence of 
individual differences in inventive capacity, the principal similarity be- 


tween primitive and modern invention lies in the relationship of both to 
discovery. The principal difference, on the other hand, as between primi 
tive and modern, lies in the intellectual equipment of the inventor and in 
the conditions under which he does his work. Most of the time, at any rate, 
the modern inventor is, like his primitive brother, a capable utilizer of 

Consider, for example, the role of discovery in the invention of the 
incandescent lamp. When Edison entered this field electric lighting based 
on the consumption of carbon or other material in an open-air lamp 
had already been attempted with partial success. Edison began his 
exploration by rapidly reaching the conclusion that an arc-light was 
unfit for indoor illumination. What he therefore set out to solve was the 
problem of an incandescent electric lamp. At this point the Edison Elec 
tric Light Company undertook to finance Edison's labours at his Menlo 
Park laboratory. Followed days and nights of unrelenting toil. Not 
before forty thousand dollars had been spent on the experiments, did a 
lamp, put on the circuit, light up and maintain its light for almost two 
days. A new principle of lighting was thus established. But the brittle 
filament employed did not come up to commercial requirements. What 
was needed was a durable burner. So a search was begun for a material 
which could be reduced to a perfectly homogeneous carbon. Here 
Edison turns discoverer. He carbonizes everything he can lay his hands 
on, tissue paper, soft paper, card boards, threads, fish line, vulcanized 
fibre, celluloid, coco-nut hair and shell, varieties of wood, punk, cork, 
flax, grasses, weeds. In all, some six thousand substances were carbon 
ized and tested before Edison chanced upon a bamboo binding rim of 
a palm-leaf fan, which, finally, proved to possess the properties re 
quired in the specifications. A man was then sent to Japan for a supply 
of bamboo, and before long the major problem was solved. 

Edison, it will be seen, knew what he wanted the 'thing' to do, knew it 
more precisely, perhaps, than a primitive would know it in a similar 
situation; but he did not know how it would do it or what that thing 
would prove to be; and so he launched upon a voyage of discovery, the 
end of which proved successful but might have proved a failure, in the 
course of which he had to test nature in its myriad forms and wait and 
watch for the discovery to come. Knowing what he wanted, he was of 
course impatient though persistent, butquite like his primitive brother 
he was unable to take the next step without a discovery which, as 
always, was on the knees of the gods who, in this case, proved kindly 
disposed to Edison. 

The respect in which Edison's labours differed from those of the 


primitive inventor, on the other hand, is this: In the case of Edison, as 
of many other modern inventors, a background of technical knowledge 
and of human organization were there to expedite and promote his 
inventive efforts. 6 

Another recent example of a highly organized attempt at invention is 
presented by the history of the once famous Liberty Motor. In this case the 
order of events was: first, the realization of a need; then, an organization 
of technicians; finally, the requisite invention. What occurred, in brief, 
was the following: Some time after America entered the War President 
Wilson came to realize that a radical improvement in aeroplane motors 
had become a necessity. In consequence he charged his Secretary of the 
Treasury, Mr. McAdoo, with the accomplishment of this task. The latter, 
who had had previous experience in engineering enterprises, retained two 
consulting engineers, the brothers X and Y, and placed them in a posi 
tion where they could exercise a free hand in the selection of assistants, 
the acquisition of laboratory facilities, and the expenditure of practically 
unlimited funds. X and Y then proceeded to summon three experts, A, B, 
and C, each one of whom was occupying a consulting position with one 
of the great automobile concerns: A was a specialist on carbureters, 
B on gases, and C on machine-designing. These experts were made fa 
miliar with the problem and the requirements that were to be met. The 
weight of the motor was not to exceed l 1 /^ to 1% pounds per horse-power. 
This specification was to be adhered to even were the motor to be fed with 
very low-grade gasoline, an important provision in view of war condi 
tions. The parts of the motor were to be standardized and made inter 
changeable so that the motor could be disassembled and reassembled 
even under most adverse conditions, and broken or deranged parts could 
be promptly replaced. The standardization of the parts of the motor was 
required as an essential condition for economical mass production. 

Supplied with these specifications, A, B, and C went into consultation 
in a room of a Washington hotel and remained there, their meals being 
served to them, until the designs for the motor were complete in all 
particulars. In view of the many mechanical details involved in this 
task, a staff of trained designers were placed at their disposal. 

When this much was accomplished, the engineers X and Y 'farmed out' 
different parts of the motor to a number of machine-manufacturing con 
cerns, being guided in their choice by the special facilities of these con 
cerns. When the separate parts of the motor were thus produced, they 
were brought to Washington and there assembled. The motor was next 
subjected to the most exacting experimental tests, more than fulfilling 

6 This sketch is based on Deyer and Martin's book, Edison, His Life and Inventions. 


all expectations. As usual in such cases, however, certain constituent 
parts of the motor were found to be slightly altered in shape through the 
stresses and strains to which they were subjected in the tests, a well-nigh 
inevitable occurrence no matter how precise or detailed the theoretical 
specifications. In this final shape, then, the parts of the motor were 
utilized as models for the building of tools to be employed in the manu 
facture of the motor. After this was done orders were once more "farmed 
out' to concerns located far and wide over the entire country. 7 

In comparing these two modern instances with what we know to be 
true of primitives, both the similarities and the differences in the two 
situations come to light. We have professional inventors, the primitives 
lack them. Among us the inventor is an expert who devotes himself to 
the task of inventing after the fashion of any specialist ; among the primi 
tives inventions are made by ordinary people, though no doubt in many 
instances the ordinary people are endowed by nature with an inventive 
bent. Our inventions, therefore, can be anticipated, deliberately planned, 
and controlled to a nicety; among the primitives none of these things can 
be done. The modern inventor is a highly trained individual. He is 
equipped with a body of theoretical knowledge which guides him in his 
work and saves him from becoming lost in blind alleys. 8 He is also an 
experienced technician, at home among many varieties of materials and 
master of many of the often highly specialized skills needed in the 
handling of tools and the control of mechanical processes. He has been 
trained in the short-cuts of modern machine production. He can read a 
blue-print into a machine and visualize a machine from a blue-print. 
In addition to all this, inventors and technicians have themselves under 
gone a process of highly diversified specialization, each specialist being 

7 This sketch of the Liberty Motor, when first made in my Early Civilization, 
was accompanied by the following foot-note which I want to reproduce here: 'This 
history of the "Liberty Motor" is given on the authority of my friend, Ralph A. 
Gleason, an inventor and engineer, to whom I owe whatever insight I possess into 
the nature of the mental processes, often so mysterious to the layman, which result 
in inventions.' 

8 As an additional illustration let me cite the following interesting project. Some 
three or four years ago the National Physical Laboratory at Teddington, England, 
announced the plan of constructing a wind-tunnel to test the 'drift' on projectiles, 
such as shells and bullets. For this purpose use was to be made of the large 
amount of compressed air accumulated in similar experiments with aeroplanes. 
This air was to be released through a small tunnel at speeds as high as 700 miles 
per hour. The projectile or bullet, then, would remain stationary, all the motion 
being supplied by the air stream. One of these objects was to be suspended in the 
tunnel, while automatic electric recording instruments were to tell the effect of 
wind forces. Whether this project was carried into effect I am unable to say. But 
no matter. 


particularly familiar with certain kinds of processes, tools, and prob 
lems : mechanical, chemical, structural, and so on. 

Of this many-sided training, knowledge, and skill, the primitive in 
ventor, by the grace of God, knows nothing. There is no theoretical knowl 
edge for him to acquire. He is subject to all the vicissitudes of false 
leads ; he is, moreover, a busy man doing all sorts of things as a member 
of his tribe, for to remind the reader once more he is not a profes 
sional inventor devoting all his time and thought to the technical task at 
hand. The modern inventor, before embarking upon a particular inven 
tion, familiarizes himself in great detail with everything that has been 
done before him along similar lines, and the particular direction in 
which his invention, or improvement on a preceding invention, is to lie, 
is also clear to his mind. The primitive inventor is not a student of the 
history of techniques or of tools. Being, as we assumed, of a mechanical 
turn of mind, he may have paid more attention to the technical devices 
of his tribe than did some of his mates, but no more than that. Also, he 
knows but vaguely what it is that he wants to accomplish : the relative 
defmiteness with which the modern inventor can think of something 
which is as yet not there is itself the product of a highly trained intelli 
gence with a mechanical or technical slant. Then again, the primitive 
invents in the open, as it were, surrounded by nature in the raw with 
nothing to go by but the average run of experience, the incidental hints 
of discovery, and the sparse background of the technical status quo of 
his tribe and culture. 

To the modern inventor also nature is an indispensable companion. 
However, his work is done in a laboratory. Now a laboratory, from one 
angle, is nature harnessed. The experiments he makes with it under these 
conditions are condensed in space and in time. Like Edison with his 
innumerable samples, he merely has to stretch out his hand (or have his 
assistant do so), and the required substance is produced. The role of 
accident is thus minimized. Time and space, as I said, are reduced here 
by the presence in the laboratory of all those elements of nature the in 
ventor is likely to need in his work. He is not forced to rely, as must 
his primitive brother, on the accident of encountering these elements in 
the course of his uncontrolled experience. As a result, he is capable of 
producing in a day or a week or a year what under primitive conditions 
might take a century or an era, or not occur at all. 

The enormous enhancement of inventive possibilities by the avail 
ability of a laboratory equipment is carried even further by the presence 
of human organization and co-operation centered around inventions, as 


exhibited in the case of the incandescent lamp and in that of the Liberty 
Motor. This feature also is lacking in the primitive setting : as there are 
no professional inventors or technological experts, so also there is no 
co-operation in invention. Each one has to rely on his own wits and the 
accidents or good fortune of his private experience. 

It would seem then that the contrast is overwhelming. This, however, 
is not the case. Primitive or modern, not everyone can invent. As stated 
before, there is no reason to doubt that individual variability in me 
chanical ability or ingenuity is a universal fact, quite independent of 
time or place or cultural phase. This special ability, as we saw, com 
prises two factors: originality or imagination, which is a gift for think 
ing along new lines; and practicality of a special sort, which is a talent 
for giving the original idea a form calculated to function, when ma 
terialized, in an objective and matter-of-fact world. The inventor, to be 
sure, concocts many devices and can do many things which nature un 
aided is incapable of accomplishing; nevertheless, in constructing his 
device with a view to operation, the inventor uses natural materials and 
must consider their qualities and limitations as well as the operative 
conditions in which they will function as parts of his device. If he neglects 
this double orientation, his invention, though still original, will not 
operate. It might then qualify as a tricky thing, a would-be invention, 
but not in the proper sense as an invention. Now this combination of 
the ideal with the real, of creativeness with concrete-mindedness, is some 
thing peculiar to the psychology of invention. In this respect also the 
modern inventor and his remote precursor may join hands as of one 
kind. Further, as we saw, primitive invention represents, at least in the 
majority of cases, a deliberate utilization of an accidental discovery. 
This aspect, though partially disguised by the high degree of deliberate- 
ness in modern invention, is present here also. At one point or another, 
a modern inventor, though knowing what he wants and what he might 
have to use, finds himself in a situation where he must test things out, 
trying and trying again, in anticipation of a discovery which might come 
if his preparations happen to be adequate, but which nevertheless might 
be withheld. At any rate, he cannot know, except vaguely, what he will 
find until he finds it, and these are the earmarks of a discovery. 

In these several respects then, which, as will be recognized, lie at the 
very root of the invention complex, the primitive and the modern situa 
tions are strictly comparable. 

There are two further standpoints from which primitive invention 
needs to be examined. Impressed by the overwhelming number and ca 
pacity of modern inventions, we are often inclined to minimize the ac- 



complishments of the primitives. We are thus prompted to forget that 
invention is easier when it can lean against a background of numerous 
other inventions. The very presence of this background, the opportunities 
it provides for comparative study, the stimulation of the technological 
faculty by observed similarities, differences, merits and defects, furnish 
a mighty impetus for the next invention. Everything else being equal, the 
more inventions there are the more will come and the quicker. 9 From 
this angle, primitive inventions which occurred in a world sparsely set 
with inventions were infinitely more difficult. In this perspective, the 
incandescent lamp, in all its glory, pales before the dimmer light of the 
hesitant and modest flame which flickered forth from under the hands 
of the man who used the first fire-saw or fire-drill. Similarly, the long 
procession of inventions which followed upon the wheel the cart with 
its road-bed, the train with its steel track, the tractor which carries its 

9 Compare the figures given by W. F. Ogburn in 'The Influence of Invention and 
Discovery,' Recent Social Trends, vol. I, p. 126. (Reprinted by permission of the 
author. ) 















































































Now patents, though not to be identified with inventions, are evidently correlated 
with them. Again, the selection of 'inventions' made by Darmstaedter must, 
of course, be subjective to some extent. Still, the increase of patents and inven 
tions in the two periods selected is impressive; and, as the rate of increase also 
tends to increase, even though not consistently, the figures certainly suggest that 
the number of inventions in existence at any time is an important factor in deter 
mining the number of inventions likely to follow within a given period, more or less. 


road with it were both easier and less basic than the wheel itself. As 
one looks upon the wheel from the standpoint of a world in which there 
was no wheel, its appearance may be likened to a miracle giving wings 
to pedestrian creatures and opening up unlimited possibilities of further 

And, finally, there is this one last point: Having been impregnated al 
most fatally with the seed of evolutionary thinking, we like to conceive 
of everything in the history of culture as a series of transformations. 
Let us not forget, then, in connexion with invention, that persistence is 
an equally ubiquitous and no less significant phenomenon. The basic 
primitive inventions are not *dead they live on among us, either as 
constituent parts of later inventions, or side by side with them. The 
lever, though not understood theoretically, was used as an empirical 
device among many primitives, and it still constitutes one of the pillars 
of modern mechanics. The sapling, bent out of its natural position to 
provide the dynamic factor in a primitive trap, is the remote forerunner 
of the spring which runs untold millions of watches and performs numer 
ous other tasks in modern technology. The achievement of Alexander 
the Great in cutting the Gordian Knot, though dramatic, did not equal 
that other achievement the tying of the first knot. And this knot, in the 
midst of an ever growing family of knots, is still with us. There are, 
moreover, numerous persons, mostly male, in our present society in 
capable of tying a single knot, and if and when they learn to do it, they 
learn something very primitive and very old. Knife and hammer, pot 
and basket, house and boat, are all primitive inventions, still used in 
forms essentially like those of their primitive models. By far the larger 
number of domesticated animals and cultivated plants were subjugated 
to the will and use of man before the modern age dawned. In other words, 
what the primitives did in bringing into the world these basic and dif 
ficult inventions was to lay the foundation for man's career as a tool- 
maker, to sharpen the line separating him from the animal, thus adding 
to culture numerous devices, material expressions of ideas, which have 
come to stay and continue to live on among us as important though 
modest elements of our mechanized civilization. 

Chapter IX 

When primitive society as a whole is compared with the modern scene 
there is no gainsaying the fact that division of labour and specialization in 
particular pursuits stand out as characteristic of the modern age, whereas 
occupational uniformity accompanied by individual versatility is char 
acteristic of primitiveness. Take, for example, the basic occupations of 
the food quest. By and large, there are in a primitive group no special 
providers of food for the rest of the community. The food quest is, as it 
were, a universal service. Take hunting as the type of most primitive 
economy all the men of the group are hunters, and all the boys are 
trained to become such. Similarly, the needs of safety and war do not in 
the simplest societies lead to the differentiation of a special warrior 
class, such as we find in many African tribes. On the contrary, every 
able-bodied man is a potential warrior and is fitting himself to become 
a brave, that is, an outstanding warrior. In the plant-gathering pursuits 
of the women, again, every housewife must do her share, not merely as a 
cook but also as the provider of that which is to be cooked. At the same 
time the illustrations already mentioned reveal the presence of a division 
of labour of a very sweeping and significant sort. It is, after all, the 
man who is hunter and warrior, whereas the woman is the gatherer of 
the wild products of nature and the cook. There are exceptions to all this, 
to be sure. Here and there, men will do the cooking or even the gathering 
of plants, and in certain tribes, almost anywhere in the primitive world, 
individual women will occasionally join the ranks of hunters or warriors. 
In more developed societies, as are those of Africa, regiments of women 
Amazons are not unknown, as, for example, the famous feminine 
body-guard of the king of Dahomey, these women being especially 
trained for the warrior profession and acquiring sufficient expertness in 
it to enjoy a high reputation both for their proficiency in the art and for 
their ferocity. 1 Still it will be admitted that these are exceptions on the 
background of an opposite and widely prevalent principle. 

1 These women were known in Dahomey as 'king's wives' or 'our mothers.' 
Burton, writing in 1862, computed the number of female troops as 2500 (one third 
of these unarmed). In earlier days the Amazons consisted mostly of criminals or 



This primary division of labour has significant after-effects in later 
phases of civilization when agriculture and herding or animal breeding 
develop. The primitive herder is a man, and there are good reasons to 
believe that domestication was man's invention. The primitive agricul 
turist, on the other hand again with some exceptions is woman, and 
there is equal ground for the belief proof here is impossible that 
women were the inventors of cultivation. 

We must, it is true, grant that a primitive local group is more self- 
sufficient and more definitely dependent on its own industrial activity 
than is a modern local group, and that every family within such a group 
is not unlike an industrial unit within the tribal whole, able if necessary 
to take care of itself. Still, this generalization should not be carried too 
far. Even in industrially very primitive Australia, for example, we find a 
modicum of industrial exchange between local groups. The men of one 
local group will have a reputation for skill in the manufacture of stone 
knives, those of another, of spears, javelins, or shields, a fact sometimes 
associated with the presence or profusion in a given locality of the needed 
materials. On certain periodic occasions members of these tribes fore 
gather at very crude 'markets' for the exchange of their respective 
products. Nor is the psychology of supply and demand wholly foreign 
to these natives. Thus a man who has some stone knives to exchange will 
be careful not to reveal to his adversary in trade just how many knives 
he has, hoping that an underestimate of the actual number on the part 
of that adversary will make him more willing to exchange his shields or 
spears at an advantage to the maker of the stone knives. 

In other industrially more advanced societies this aspect of industry is 
developed much further. Thus, for example, in Polynesia expert wood 
workers in general, and in particular boat-builders, represent a profes 
sional group which enjoys considerable social prestige. This is especially 
true of the boat-builders, whose occupation, often hereditary, acquires 
among these sea-minded peoples a quasi-religious halo. In Africa, again, 
industrial specialization goes still further. We find here not only a 
definite occupational and social division between herders and agricultur- 

faithless wives who became warriors, at the king's pleasure, instead of being sac 
rificed, as was the custom. Later any unmarried woman could be chosen by the king 
for his body-guard. An Amazon was sworn to celibacy, a commitment frequently 
honoured in the breach. The usual penalty was death. The Amazons, in Burton's 
days, were armed with blunderbusses (a short muzzle-loading gun) , muskets, and 
long razor-shaped knives with an 18-inch blade. In battle the Amazons were known 
for their courage. As tokens of their prowess they were wont to carry off human 
heads and jawbones. (See C. G. Seligman, Races of Africa, pp. 74-76.) 


ists, but also occupational groups of salt-diggers, wood-carvers, fisher- 
men, and smiths. 

The status of the smith in Africa is so interesting as to deserve special 
comment. Among the agricultural tribes of Africa the hoe naturally oc 
cupies a central position in their economy equal to that of the weapons. 
The iron-smith, as the only one who can provide the metal parts of these 
tools, enjoys the prestige corresponding to the importance of this func 
tion. The social position of the smith is not by any means always the 
same. In the region extending from the Zambezi to tEe Guinea Coast the 
smith often rises to the position of highest chief or king. If this privilege is 
denied him he may yet be used by the king as prime minister or chief 
adviser. In eastern Africa he also appears as a private physician to the 
king. In the great states of the western Sudan, where a guild-like or 
ganization of crafts has developed, the chief smith occupies an especially 
prominent position at court. An aura of supernaturalism frequently de 
scends upon the personage of the smith, who understands how to trans 
form reddish ore into pure metal and this into articles of use. The entire 
process connected with the melting and working of iron is often sur 
rounded by taboos and special observances. When, as in western Sudan, 
the smith also rises to exceptional prominence in the ancient secret so 
cieties, his importance is at its highest. 

v His social position changes materially as we pass to those tribes of 
North and East Africa which stand under Hamitic influence. Though he 
maintains his status in industry he is socially despised. In the entire 
easternmost part of Africa, among the Somali, the Gala, and the Masai, 
the smith belongs to the most despised class, with which one avoids all 
contact. The Somali noble never enters a smithy, and the Masai warrior 
first rubs his hand with oil before he grips the weapon prepared by the 
smith. Similar conditions obtain among the Herero and Ovambo of 
Southwest Africa. This social inferiority of the profession of the smith 
transforms its representatives into an endogamous caste which inter 
marries within itself. Between the two extremes of social exaltation and 
inferiority there are numerous transitional stages. 

i The situation with traders is very similar.) In Australia and America 
the trader as a specialized profession is unknown. In Oceania, especially 
in Melanesia, where trade-mindedness is pronounced and a variety of 
exchange media are in general use, no trading class as such has emerged. 
In Africa, on the other hand, with its roads, markets, and a high degree 
of professional specialization, there are traders, known as a class among 
many tribes and especially developed as a profession in the western 


Sudan. There are, of course, also numerous media of exchange, from 
cowry-shells to cattle and iron bars. 

So also in the field of religion. When contrasted with the modern 
situation where the vast majority of people are purely passive as to re 
ligion, all primitives are active participants in the religious realm, both 
as experience and certainly as an institution. Personal religious experi 
ences, though not universal, are certainly as common among primitives 
as they are rare among moderns, and all primitives place at the service of 
their religion or magic their early acquired facility in singing and danc 
ing. Also, every primitive man or woman is to a degree a magician, not 
merely in the sense of believing in magic or benefiting or suffering 
through it, but in the more active sense of performing magical acts. On 
the other hand, even in the crudest communities, as in Australia, there 
is a special class of medicine-men who are experts in magic. They are 
well versed in all esoteric lore and can be relied upon to perform the 
relevant rituals with all the necessary care and skill. They are expert at 
the art either of bringing about illness or death by magical means, or of 
curing sickness, as the case may be. When functioning in this latter ca 
pacity they are compensated by social prestige and also, commonly 
enough, by payments of 'one sort or another. In Oceania the priest is a 
member of a more or less exalted profession, not a mere magical prac 
titioner. (The priests are village treasurers, in Melanesia, genealogists, in 
Polynesia. This differentiation is also present in North America, where 
among the Pueblo peoples, the southern Sioux of the eastern Plains, and 
the Pawnee a priest is something more than just a medicine-man. In Africa 
this distinction becomes quite precise in many districts, The magician 
here is a powerful figure, to be sure, capable of doing both good and 
evil by plying his craft, but he is not a priest, whose social position is 
beyond dispute and one of whose functions is to attend upon the recog 
nized tribal or national deities. Here, in fact, we can find in an incipient 
form a phenomenon more conspicuously present in European society of 
the Middle Ages, namely the recognition of the magician by the priest. 
The latter is socially exalted but he has forgotten some of the useful 
techniques of his ancestors, and on occasion we find him standing in fear 
and trembling before his less reputable but more formidable brother, 
the magician or fetish-doctor, whose art is too dangerous for mere con 

What applies to technical work in general is true even more emphati 
cally about craft or artistic work. Here we once more encounter the 
prevalent division between man and woman. Man, for example, is the 

woodworker, as in Oceania, the Northwest Coast of America, or any 
where else, for that matter. 2 He is also the carver or artist of that particu 
lar technique. A Maori or Haida woman may understand the fine points 
of an artistically embellished boat, club, or ceremonial pole better than 
does an outsider or a White man, but she does not understand it as well 
as her man does, and certainly it is not her occupation. Among the 
Iroquois, where bark-work and woodwork, including the making of 
masks, were man's occupations, some women have been known to prac 
tise minor woodwork or mask-making, but a woman always did this on 
the sly, as it were, as something distinctly improper and not to be ad 

Among the Eskimo, men decorate the weapons which they also make, 
and they carve the very skilfully executed bone figurines so typical of 
Eskimo craftsmanship. They also carve, with exquisite skill, the needle- 
cases used by women to preserve their ivory needles, which may be made 
by persons of either sex. Women, on the other hand, who cut to pattern 
and sew the very adequately made garments of these people, are also the 
artists of their trade, decorating the garments with relatively simple 
patterns consisting of attractively arranged bits of hide in applique. 

[Among the Iroquois the men work in bark and also take care of what 
ever little woodwork there is, while the women embroider the garments,! 
which in this group of tribes and in the Woodland culture area generally 
are distinguished by floral patterns, as to subject, and by an elaborate 
curvilinearity, as to form. 

Among the Plains Indians the more realistic painting on the tents and 
shields are the work of men, whereas the characteristic and beautiful 
porcupine-quill (in more recent days, bead) embroidery, coloured and 
geometrical, on the shirts, moccasins and bags, is invariably the handi 
work of women. When, however, a woman fashions and embroiders a 
pair of moccasins for her husband or admirer, she is responsible merely 
for the geometrical pattern, and the symbolism is supplied by the man. 
The men, of course, take care of the horses, which they use in war and 
chase and steal with zest and much accruing honour from other tribes, 
but the women do all the work connected with buffalo hides: together 
with men, or alone, they skin the animals, tan the skins, cook the meat, 
grind the dried meat into pemmican, cut the skins to pattern, make the 

2 It is curious that this particular industrial activity is even more definitely 
androcentric than hunting or fighting. Whether in primitive or modern times, it 
would be hard to find an example of women professionally engaged in woodwork, 
except, of course, in altogether individual instances. 


clothes and, as already stated, decorate them with embroidery. They 
also use the tougher hides for tent material, erect the tents or tipis, and 
dismantle them when camp is broken. 

The division of function is even more apparent in the socio-political 
field I might have said fatally apparent, as far as woman is concerned. 
The warrior, as noted before, is of course a man, a fact of double con 
notation, occupational and social. The fact that the warrior or fighter, 
who is skilled in the wielding of weapons, is always a man, inevitably 
stands for a certain social pre-eminence. It is in fact likely, though dif 
ficult to prove, that one of the earliest incentives for the socio-political dis- 
franchisement of woman came in consequence of her helplessness when 
confronted with her armed male brother, whose natural physical su 
periority was thus further enhanced in a most emphatic and shall we 
say with her? dangerous way. 

Then comes leadership. Men not being born equal, one respect in 
which they are unequally equipped by nature is in capacity to lead. In 
some tribes, this leadership takes a very modest and definitely restricted 
form; in others, it means social pre-eminence, privilege, power. When 
examining leadership from the standpoint of division of functions, 
we encounter, for the first time, a marked one-sidedness: the plus 
is all on the side of man, the minus on that of woman. In economy, 
technology, art, there was division of labour, often between the sexes, as 
we saw, but no discrimination: man did his share, woman hers. The 
economic discrimination against woman, which threw her out of many 
professions and made her dependent upon man, is conspicuous among 
primitives by its absence. Similarly in art: the taboo against the woman 
artist, writer, or actress, so characteristic of the high Asiatic civiliza 
tions and of those of Europe, from antiquity almost to yesterday, is for 
eign to primitive society. Not so in socio-political matters. Woman's 
unique and irreplaceable role in the family and household saved her 
from demotion, within these limits, but in the wider field of social and 
political functioning, especially with reference to the exercise of power, 
she was not thus protected. At any rate, in this important sphere we find 
her pushed to the wall. The leader chief, king, priest, ceremonial offi 
cial, judge is pre-eminently a man. We know, of course, of women in 
each and all of these positions, but these are individual instances the 
opposite is the rule, which gives a peculiar slant to primitive society, 
from this angle, and, more broadly, lends a strange, not altogether 
wholesome colour to the entire history of mankind. As to power, openly 
and officially exercised, this has always been a man-made world. Nor 
should we misunderstand certain facts, in particular places, which seem 


to point the other way: for example, the political rights of Iroquois 
women or the presence of queens in Africa. True, women made and 
unmade Iroquoian chieftains; this in itself is important, and excep 
tional. But the chiefs, meaning now the 50 League chieftains, were men, 
nor does history or tradition record a single lapse from masculine 
leadership. There were here certain other chieftainships, honorary ones, 
bestowed for special deserts. Among such 'pine tree' chiefs there were 
some women. This again is significant, of course, in so far as the rela 
tively high position of women among the Iroquois is thus revealed. But 
it must also be remembered that a 'pine tree' chieftainship (the term 
implying that the bearer of the title is 'as straight as a pine') was a 
strictly personal distinction which vanished, as a social factor, with its 
bearer : meanwhile things political pursued, undisturbed, their androcen 
tric course. 

As to Africa, the title 'queen' there, as we shall see further on, is ap 
plied to the mother and the wife of the king. These two personages are, 
of course, exalted; they possess lands, wealth, have their own retinues of 
slaves, servants, officials, enjoy prestige and. influence. But here the 
matter ends. The queens do not rule, the affairs of state do not concern 
them, we know of no official councils at which they figure. Human rela 
tions being what they are and by and large very much the same, 
wherever and regardless it is to be assumed that here and there the 
queen (or queens) may have had something to say to the king but this 
was family business. The fact remains that an African queen is merely 
her king's queen, not the people's queen. She does not rule; in matters 
of state she is little more than a decorative appendage. Further, the ex 
istence of a queen (or queens) among these peoples does not reflect the 
position of women among them any more than the queenships (in these 
cases, in their own right) of Elizabeth or Maria Theresa or Catherine II 
reflected the status of European women in their times and countries. The 
socio-political disabilities of African women were radical; as to the 
queens, they merely represented an extension of royal prerogatives to 
those who bore kings or were wedded to them. 

Next to the political sphere, that of religion is heavily weighted against 
woman. There are, we know, medicine-women as well as men, also female 
shamans. The mediums at the shrines of African gods are often women. 
In Melanesia, West Africa, North America, women, in different tribes, 
band together into religious societies. But there is another side to all 
this. An African medium is, after all, not the priest; the latter is a man, 
always; quite as in North America, where medicine-women and sorcer 
esses occur, but the priests, whether Omaha or Zuni, are men. Similarly 


with religious societies: those of men are always more numerous, and 
they set the style; the women's societies are patterned after them. To 
this must be added those numerous instances, strikingly exhibited in 
Australia, where women are strictly excluded, except at mosrt as spec 
tators, from all the more sacred activities and riles. Of course, women 
are drawn into the spell of faith and rite not less fully than are men: 
they give as much, perhaps more, but they receive less, by way of privi 
lege, influence, or initiative. 

In connexion with religion there are two factors here. On the one hand, 
the limitation of woman's socio-political sphere is reflected in her partial 
disabilities in the national, social, ritual aspects of religion. On the 
other, woman is handicapped in matters sacred by the fact that she her 
self is not merely a human but also a woman a peculiar creature with a 
distracting and at times repulsive periodicity in her life cycle, a peculiar 
and only partly understood relationship to the fact of birth, and a fas 
cinating but often excessive and always disturbing influence on man via 
sex. She is, therefore, herself quasi-sacred, and often wholly unclean; 
she must be treated with circumspection; taboos cling to her person; 
to let her loose in the sacred realm might upset the whole order of things 
mystical as well as secular. 

And finally, woman is also side-tracked in regard to property and all 
that pertains thereto. Among tribes lacking unilateral social units, wom 
an's proprietary inequality is least marked or, in certain instances, absent 
altogether. But in sib 8 society the picture changes. Wherever the male 
principle dominates descent, property inheritance follows suit; in the 
majority of tribes where descent is maternal, inheritance of property 
is nevertheless through males. There are a few tribes in America and 
India where both descent and inheritance follow the spindle. This situa 
tion may give woman proprietary equality, but also it may not. On the 
Northwest Coast, where maternal property inheritance is one of the 
most firmly established institutions, what is inherited, including a large 
variety of religious and ceremonial prerogatives, concerns men, not 
women woman passes it on, man uses it. Property, the most valuable 
and honorific part of it, uses woman as a medium of transfer, not as a 
point of delivery. 

As in the case of religion, woman herself is in many instances part of 
man's proprietary equipment. When this is the case, she belongs to the 
realm of things owned (achieving distinction in this not too flattering 
status) , rather than to the wielders and manipulators of owned things. 

A sib is a unilateral social unit, like a clan (descent maternal) or a gens 
(descent paternal). For particulars see p. 330. 

In property, as in religion and politics, woman's status, instead 
of rising, tended to fall with the transcending of primitiveness. There 
she remained throughout history. Even today and in the Western world, 
with official emancipation all but achieved, real equality of status for 
women remains rather a hope for the future than an accomplishment 
of the present. 4 

In this, as in other matters, there are exceptions. Margaret Mead, the 
genial anthropologist whose fate it is to upset established notions, has 
given us a picture of a primitive matriarchate de facto in spite of con 
trary institutions de jure. The tribe are the Tchambuli in northern New 
Guinea (once German, now British), to whom the following section is 

The Tchambuli 

Among these dwellers of a New Guinea lake-shore who number a bare 
500, life runs an easy course. (The major occupation of the food quest 
consists in fishing, which is almost altogether in the hands of women) 
The excess of fish, which is almost always great, is traded, together with 
shell money, for sago and sugar-cane produced by tribes dwelling in 
the bush. The currency used in such markets consists of the talibun, or 
green snail shells. These shells themselves are derived from far away 
Wallis Island of the Arapesh coast and are as much objects of inherent 
worth as they are currency. Thus marketing with talibun, says the author, 
is 'shopping on both sides,' the possessor of the currency extolling the 
value of his coin as much as the possessor of the food stresses that article. 
Besides the fishing, women also do the weaving. The men, on the other 
hand, in addition to engaging in innumerable ceremonies, are the artists 
par excellence, each one having a variety of skills at his disposal: danc 
ing, carving, painting. "Every man's hand,' we are told, 'is occupied, 
etching a pattern on a lime-gourd, plaiting a bird, or a piece of a mask, 
brocading a house-blind, or fashioning a cassowary-bone into the sem 
blance of a parrot or a hornbill.' 5 

The tribe is divided into patrilineal groups bearing a common name 
and owning strips of territory. There is a dual organization also, all the 

4 However, let us distinguish. Formal rights, recognized institutional leadership, 
are one thing; psychological situation, personal knots, tied and resolved, another. 
Let us remember that French women have been known to smile condescendingly 
upon the emancipatory efforts of their foreign sisters. 'What if we lack the right 
to vote?' they said. 'We have the men. They control the vote, we control them, voild!' 
Who can tell but that they were right? 

6 Margaret Mead, Sex and Temperament, p. 244. (Reprinted by permission of 
William Morrow & Company, Inc.) 


members of one gens belonging to the Sun people, those of another to the 
Mother people. Marriage is between these divisions, although not in 
variably so. When a boy is between eight and twelve, he is due for 
scarification. Squirming, he will be held on a log, while a distantly re 
lated maternal 'uncle' cuts patterns on his back. While he is making the 
best of this pitiable situation, an elaborately conceived ceremonial is 
taking place all about him in which he himself is, however, the least 
important item; in fact no one pays any attention to the boy. The one 
solid group upon whom he depends for support, food, and protection 
are the women, nor is there any split between the women of his blood 
group and his wife, for he marries the daughter of one of his mother's 
half-brothers or cousins and calls her by the same name that he also 
applies to his own mother, aiyai. On his wife or wives the man depends 
for his food and comfort. Not only is the business of fishing controlled by 
women, as already said, but the most important manufacture, namely the 
mosquito bags, two of which will buy a canoe, are made entirely by 
women. The initiative in marriage is taken by the 'weaker sex,' and it is 
for the man to make himself attractive and desirable. 'He will learn to 
play the flute beautifully, to play the flute that sounds like a cassowary, 
the flute that barks like a dog, the flutes that cry like birds, the set of 
flutes that are blown together to produce an organ-like effect.' 

The women's attitude towards the men, we are told, is one of kindly 
tolerance and appreciation. They enjoy men's games and the theatricals 
put on by the men for their benefit. At a certain dance the men appear in 
wooden masks balanced in the midst of a head-dress of leaves and flowers, 
in the centre of which dozens of little flowers are thrust on sticks. Some 
masks are male, others female; the former carry spears, the latter brooms, 
but the dancers are all male. The older men usually wear male masks, 
whereas the younger and more frivolous ones wear female masks. It is 
with the latter that the women flirt during their dance,^ trying to attract 
their attention and to arouse them. The solidarity of women and the un 
stable and brittle relationships of men are illustrated by a picture of the 
inside of a Tchambuli dwelling house: 'The entire centre is firmly oc 
cupied by well-entrenched women, while the men sit about the edges, 
near the door, one foot on the house-ladder almost, unwanted, on suffer 
ance, ready to flee away to their men's houses, where they do their own 
cooking, gather their own firewood, and generally live a near-bachelor 
life in a state of mutual discomfort and suspicion.' r It is against the old 
men that the young men have a particular grudge. They say bitterly that 

6 Mead, op. cit., p. 253, 
id., p. 258. 

these 'use every bit of power and strategy which they possess to cut out 
their young rivals, to shame and disgrace them before the women/ 8 

It must not be imagined that the men's houses, which among many 
tribes are strictly taboo to women, are so here also. On the contrary, on 
important ceremonial occasions the women come and stay. Tor the 
scarification of a child, the woman who carries the child enters the men's 
house in state, and sits there proudly upon a stool. If there is a quarrel, 
the women gather on the hill-side and shout advice and directions into 
the very centre of the house where the debate is going on. They come 
armed with thick staves, to take part in the battle if need be. The elabo 
rate ceremonies, the beating of water-drums, the blowing of flutes, are 
no secrets to the women. 

'As they stood,' continues the author, 'an appreciative audience, listen 
ing solemnly to the voice of the crocodile, I asked them: "Do you know 
what makes that noise?" "Of course," came the answer, "it is a water- 
drum, but we don't say we know for fear the men would be ashamed." 
And the young men answer, when asked if the women know their secrets: 
"Yes, they know them, but they are good and pretend not to, for fear we 
become ashamed." And they add: "We might become so ashamed that 
we would beat them." ' And so they might indeed, for the men, when all 
is said, are stronger and the official institutions of the Tchambuli are with 
them. But the point is that they do not beat them, instead they worry 
about the women. 'What the women will think, what the women will say, 
what the women will do, lies at the back of each man's mind as he weaves 
his tenuous and uncertain web of insubstantial relations with other 
men.' 9 

Of course, the Tchambuli only number 500 people at a lake in northern 
British New Guinea. Also, the author in her enthusiasm may have over 
drawn the picture somewhat, a point which might have become clearer 
had she elaborated the following chapter, The Unplaced Men and 
Women,' more fully than she does. Still, the mass of details and the care 
with which the picture is drawn leave no doubt of the essential correct 
ness of the sketch. And what occurs here must evidently be regarded as 
no less than possible, and as such, instructive. 

s Ibid., p. 259. 
8 Ibid., p. 263. 

Chapter X 

The Ownership of Property 

As everyone knows, the ownership of property, especially in the form 
of individual ownership, stands in the very centre of the capitalistic cul 
ture of our Western world so much so that even the imagination has 
come to be completely in its grip. It is next to impossible for most of us 
to conceive of a state of society in which property or individual property 
does not exist. This more than anything else makes so many people shud 
der at the very idea of communism, in which property, though not elimi 
nated, is shifted from the individual to the social or national level. As 
usual in such instances, ideologies readily suggest themselves which make 
the proprietary impulse out to be an inherent organic component of 
man's make-up. Owning property, striving for property, is felt to be an 
essential, irreducible element behind human initiative. Remove it, and 
the zest for life will go with it. The very meaning of human life in society 
seems irrevocably wedded to the sense of owning things. That this in 
cold fact is actually so is not by any means certain. Perhaps property 
with its associates is but a cultural accretion, a convention of living, and 
history-made, like many other artifices of its kind. A survey of primitive 
ideas about property is likely to prove instructive and illuminating in 
this connexion. 

A review of the relevant facts leaves no room for doubt that property 
as an historic phenomenon is indeed co-extensive with man as we know 
him. In fact, we might, if we chose, read the beginnings of the pro 
prietary sense into the lives of animals, where we should, as usual, be 
handicapped by the unavoidable thinness of our insight into the animal 
psyche. We do not really know in any direct way how animals feel about 
property or how they think about it, if they do, but we are cognizant of 
their behaviour. An animal will fight for the preservation of its body; 
the latter, however, is property only in a remote and metaphorical sense 
just because it is so obviously the material embodiment of whatever it 
is that constitutes the animal as a living and psychic thing. On the other 
hand, when we observe an animal fighting for its young, its food or its 



home, the proprietary sense is manifested in a more direct way, one more 
relevant to our problem. Now most animals with whose habits we are 
familiar actually do this, and certainly all the higher animals. Over and 
above the general pugnacity of animal kind with reference to all but 
their 'friends, 5 there is this special behaviour when the animal is at home 
or in the presence of its feed. That its behaviour in these two situations 
reveals an attitude containing something beyond mere pugnacity or 
readiness to fight with strangers seems fairly obvious. It is also sig 
nificant in this connexion that man's closest animal associate, the domesti 
cated dog, who has learned from man so many other things, has so 
thoroughly absorbed man's proprietary inclinations. When it comes to 
the master's property, which in a sense is his property, the dog is an 
unmitigated egotist and an incurable snob. Man himself, with the possible 
exception of the landed proprietor, seldom equals in the virulence of his 
proprietary sense the corresponding behaviour of the watch-dog. \&p- 
parently there was here a native inclination which provided a basis on 
which the rest could be built up. 

However this may be, man, everywhere and always, had some prop 
erty. Nor is it true, as some social scientists have once supposed, that the 
primitives were addicted to communal or group ownership rather than 
the ownership of things by individuals. The patent facts do not at all 
support this a priori conception, which must be regarded as one of the 
ad hoc concoctions of the evolutionists who were looking for something 
less specific than individual property from which it could be derived, 
and found this something in communal ownership. An impartial sur 
vey of the data makes it plain that ownership by groups as well as by 
individuals is present everywhere. Communal ownership is most fre 
quently found in conjunction with the territory and its resources. Hunt 
ing regions, fishing shores, agricultural fields or gardens, are appar 
ently without exceptions owned by a group, whether it be a tribe, 
sib, family, or village. This is true in so many well- authenticated in 
stances in Australia, the South Seas, Africa, or America that cita 
tion of individual instances is not necessary. In addition to districts 
owned by particular social divisions, there are frequently hunting terri 
tories or agricultural or grazing fields which constitute public or free 
lands or fields free, that is, to all within a larger local or tribal group 
who may want or need to make use of these districts. We find this institu 
tion, for example, among the Polynesians as well as in Melanesia, fre 
quently also in Africa, both among the agriculturists and the herdersl And 
we find it again in America, both among some of the hunters like the 
Athapascans and among such agriculturists as the Iroquois. 


It is fairly clear that what the primitives mean by ownership here is 
not by any means equivalent to land-ownership in the later periods of 
history. They do not really consider that the community, family, or clan 
own an agricultural field or a hunting region in the same sense in which 
a modern landlord owns his lands, or for that matter, a landlord of 
Egypt, Rome, or Mediaeval Europe. What is 'owned,' in these primitive 
communities, is the usufruct, not the land itself. The quasi-legal con 
cept here is that individuals belonging to a particular group have the 
right to use certain districts for whatever they can obtain from them by 
way of vital stuffs. 1 

What is true of territory also applies frequently to the primary objects 
of physical need, first of all to food. This is also frequently regarded as 
a communal rather than an individual possession. With certain excep 
tions, when the product of the chase or the catch of a fishing expedition, 
or the harvest from a field, is brought in, these things are held in com 
mon by certain groups among whom the stock is distributed, often 
with much ceremony and with due regard to the social or relationship 
status of particular individuals, or in proportion to the role played by 
them in the hunting, fishing, or agricultural enterprise. This is often 
true, for example, in Australia, among the Eskimo, and the Iroquois, 
the Trobrianders, and the agricultural Negroes of Africa. 

These communal possessions do not preclude the ownership of prop 
erty by individuals. By and large, what an individual makes, wears, or 
uses as a tool or weapon, is owned by him. This applies both to men and 
to women. In this sense, individual property is universal among primi 
tives. On the other hand, communal ownership is, of course, not un 
known in modern days. I do not mean merely such things as rivers, lakes, 
roads, which as a rule are owned by the community, state, or nation, but 
also the joint ownership of stock companies and the like, with subdivision 
of proceeds proportionate to the investment, in this case not of effort or 
labour, but of capital. 

The theory regarding primitive communism as a prelude to the indi 
vidual ownership of later history, must therefore be rejected, at least in 
this drastic form. It contains, however, the germ of a truth, to this extent: 

1 An identical attitude, it seems, with that of the Russian peasants -who, driven 
from the southern regions by the inroads of Mongolian hordes, migrated farther 
north in the course of the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries, and settled 
there. To these peasants the land as such was God's or the Count's; what they them 
selves claimed was the right to use it. It is for this reason that later, when vast 
lands were distributed by the government to individuals of the nobility, the peas 
ants living on these lands offered no resistance, as long as they were permitted to 
ply their normal occupations and benefit therefrom. 


in modern Western society, individual ownership has, as we know, ac 
quired a significance and a role far beyond the importance of this institu 
tion among most primitives. Also, not a few individuals in our society 
own many more things than any primitive ever dreamed of. On the 
other hand, ownership of the essential articles needed for life or of the 
territories from which these are derived, in other words, just those things 
which in later times came to represent the most coveted forms of indi 
vidual property, constitute among primitives the prerogative of the 
group : what is needed and used by all is held in common. To this extent, 
then, it may be justly said that communal ownership is exemplified in 
primitive society, individual ownership in modern. But let me repeat: 
it is a mistake to deny to primitives individual ownership. It is ubiquitous 
and apparently as old as man himself, or older. 

Another conspicuous fact regarding primitive property is the extension 
of proprietary ideas to things other than material and the apparent ease 
with which this extension is achieved. Primitives own not only houses and 
boats, pots and baskets, tools and weapons, but also such things as 
dances, songs, stories, magical rites and formulae, individual names, and 
even guardian spirits. Here again individual instances need not be cited 
because the fact is universal. Myths, rituals, medicinal practices, dances, 
songs, are owned among the Pacific Coast Indians in the same sense in 
which they own material property; the same is true among Malinowski's 
Trobrianders, and what applies to these two regions is true everywhere. 
T his spiritual or functional property, like its material counterpart, refers 
either to groups or to particular individuals. Thus a religious society 
will own its ritualistic technique, its stories, myths, dances and songs; 
but certain songs, dances, stories, and magical rites will also be owned 
by individuals. 

This extension of the proprietary domain to things other than ma 
terial is especially interesting in so far as it illustrates the characteristic 
facility with which the primitive mind travels from the material to the 
psychic, the relatively slight distinction it draws between things which 
exist as substance and others that are mere acts or ideas. 2 

2 This is, of course, a field made familiar in more recent days by the problems 
arising in connexion -with the right to the products of one's mind, the right of 
authorship with its accruing benefits, the right to an invention, both as idea and as 
its material embodiment, the right to a thought or an expression used in writing. 
The fact that there are such things in the modern world as infringement of a patent 
or copyright, stealing of someone's play, plagiarizing another's ideas, quoting from 
another's writing without quotation marks, and the further fact that these things 
or acts are generally condemned by the modern conscience, indicate that the 
concept of ownership of property other than material has gained recognition among 
us, or is headed that way. It may be added, however* that this entire field of our 


Property Inheritance. To own property is one thing, to be born as its 
owner, another. The inheritance of property, in other words, is a cul 
tural phenomenon in some respects quite distinct from the fact of owner 
ship as such. Whatever may be said of the universality and antiquity of 
the latter, the inheritance of property is certainly not a pristine feature. 
Animals, if in a vague sense, may be owners of property but not in 
heritors of it, except in the still vaguer sense of just stepping into an 
other's shoes. The inheritance of property, then, is a convention devel 
oped in history, which implies a human mind and a certain ideology. 

From a psychological standpoint, the proprietary sense is a sort of 
extension of the sense of ego or selfhood: the ego expands beyond the 
limits of its mental domain to the ownership of the mind's body and 
beyond it to those things which are owned by the individual. This is 
best illustrated by the ease and universality with which ownership is 
claimed in things produced by one's hands, and only a little less mark 
edly, to the things worn or used by a person. A thing that owes its 
existence to the labour of our hands sucks in the personality of its 
maker during the very process of its becoming. When it is done it is part 
of you, its maker. Similarly, what one wears and uses becomes part and 
parcel of the very spirit of the wearer or user. With less facility but an 
unmistakable zest, the ego expands still further, to the things a person 

To all this a definite and terrible limit is set by a factor beyond our 
control, namely the death of the individual. Thus the entire proprietary 
complex collapses through the removal of the very centre around which 
it was built up. We cannot save the individual from his fate. Not so with 
the proprietary complex it might be preserved to extend beyond the 
individual. It is precisely this that is accomplished by the inheritance of 
property. The individual passes away but the property passes oni The 
road it takes in its passing on, moreover, is not left to accident. If I myself 
cannot own it, I want at least to make sure before I go that it will be 
owned by those whom I have conceived or fathered, and into whom I 
have instilled the proper regard for this property as well as the technique 
of its use. In this way the perpetuity of the proprietary complex is as 
sured. In proportion to the definiteness of the limits within which this 
extended proprietary complex will operate, and to the certainty of the 
very fact of its prospective operation, is the tendency of the original 

culture, as well as the fights and litigations to which it has led, would impress 
the primitives as very strange and perhaps incomprehensible. To them these things 
are perfectly obvious, and they might weJl be inclined to condemn us as crude, un- 
discerning, or unsophisticated, for making so much fuss about it. 


owner to project his ego also into this future property which will live 
on when the individual is no longer there. 3 

In speaking about property inheritance it is necessary to distinguish 
between non-deliberate inheritance by custom or law, and deliberate in 
heritance initiated by the will of the donor. Communal property is not 
subject to the latter kind of inheritance; individuals pass away but the 
group survives, and with it goes from generation to generation the own 
ership of its communal property. This is often the case also with indi 
vidual property. Broadly, where paternal inheritance prevails the father's 
property will pass on to his children; where the maternal line is fol 
lowed, the same will hold for the woman's lineage. If the kind of property 
involved is in a given tribe man's properly, then it will under maternal 
inheritance be passed on through a man's sister to her sons, that is, 
his nephews. This is, for example, the case among the Pacific Coast 
Indians, among whom most of the ceremonial prerogatives belong to 
men who alone have the right to exercise them, and are passed on as 
just described. The same situation is found among the Trobrianders and, 
of course, among any number of other tribes in all parts of the world. 

In other instances an individual wills his property deliberately: Cus 
tomary routine must still be observed, but not without the intrusion of 
personal choice. Thus in Australia it not infrequently happens that a 
fond father, member of a maternal inheritance group, chooses to will 
certain weapons or other valued articles to his son who, under the pre 
vailing rule of maternal inheritance, is not his lawful heir. The same 
has been recorded among the Indians of the Pacific Coast, especially 
among the Kwakiutl, whose customs have been studied by Franz Boas 
with a great deal of care. Maternal property inheritance here is com 
plex both in content and in mechanisms, and it partakes of the halo of 
semi-sanctity typical of the proprietary institutions of this region. This 
notwithstanding, fathers have been known, again and again, to will 
valued prerogatives to their sons or, for that matter, to other persons of 
their own choosing. 

One of the indirect consequences of the inheritance of property is its 
accumulation in the hands of particular individuals. Even among prim- 

8 The psychological mechanism explained in the text is not often brought into 
consciousness just because it is so natural and, therefore, trite. Its operation ex 
tends not to individuals alone but to families as units, where it has become re 
sponsible for the concepts of the heirloom and the 'family estate.' It is also ob 
servable in less personal institutions such as industries when they become the 
hereditary property of a long succession of related individuals, gaining in self- 
esteem and in a kind of sanctity with each generation. In his Forsyte Saga the late 
Galsworthy has given us marvellous samples of the operation of these mechanisms. 


itives an industrious or shrewd individual may accumulate considerable 
property by his personal efforts, as for example, in Melanesia or Africa; 
but he cannot accomplish as much as a succession of generations of 
individuals. By inheritance individual articles of property or entire pro 
prietary complexes may converge upon one individual from different 
directions, leading to an impressive total accumulation. 4 

What Property Means 

In the modern Western world property usually means comfort if not 
luxury, ability to indulge in many personal whims ; il also means power, 
and in particular, power over people, ability to buy and control. As the 
landowner expands psychically in the realization that he shares with 
the Divine Being, as it were, the ownership over the earth, so the in 
dustrialist or banker who disposes of vast wealth divides with his super 
human prototype the control over the world's affairs. In other words, 
to us property as wealth means in the first place what it can be used for 
to acquire the comforts of life, and in the second place what it can be 
used for to control human beings and economic or social affairs. Among 
primitives these aspects of the proprietary sphere are on the whole de 
veloped much less markedly. Among the more primitive tribes in par 
ticular, and among all primitives in comparison to moderns, the habitual 
mode of life does not differ much as between man and man, whatever 
their social or economic status. All but a few, generally speaking all who 
can, work; work physically and along the same lines as the rest of their 
tribal mates. Also, all enjoy about the same kind of food and 'comfort.' 
This is true even of Polynesia and Africa where considerable accumula 
tion of property is common and social distinctions are marked, and it 
applies in these two areas to all but the supreme chief in Polynesia or 
the king in Africa, and even they do not, in a strict sense, belong to what 
we might call a leisure class, a class, that is, whose privilege it is to enj oy 
life's luxuries without exerting corresponding efforts, or any at all. Then 
again, what wealth can buy counts for little here. At most it is the direct 
exchange value of one's possessions that is felt to be a privilege and an 
asset, that is, the ability to acquire something that someone else has and 
that you want more than what you happen to own. The most interesting 

4 It is perhaps -worth noting that the proprietary sense tends to develop to un 
usual heights in those who hold their property by inheritance. To those "who acquire 
property as a result of their efforts, it remains one of the incidents or fortunes of 
life; to those who inherit it, it tends to appear as part of the order of nature. They 
are born into it and come to regard it as an element in their personal make-up, like 
the bodies they are horn with: they cannot dissociate themselves from it. 


aspect of the proprietary sense is, however, the purely social or cere 
monial setting which in more than one instance lends property all the 
social worth it represents. 

It has often been observed that among African herders the wealthy man 
who owns vast numbers of flocks can scarcely be said to put these to 
any economic use whatsoever. What he actually needs for his family and 
household, ample and plural though these may be, amounts but to 
a fraction of what he owns in flocks and might, if he chose, dispose of 
in return for something else. This, however, he refuses to do. Instead, he 
permits his flocks to multiply; in fact, he exerts persistent and not infre 
quently successful efforts in this direction and lets it go at that. The 
number of animals in his flocks is to the African herder and breeder 
a source of joy and pride. His social prestige goes up with the size of 
his herds. The fact that his cattle or sheep or goats are fine specimens 
exalts his ego immensely. As a wealthy and successful herder, he is a 
great and admirable man, envied by those less fortunate. But this is 
where the matter ends. From our economic standpoint the whole business 
represents little but waste of energy and effort; but our standpoint is not 
that of the Africans. 

Another case in point is the situation we find among the Indians of 
the Pacific Coast. This latter instance is doubly interesting because prop 
erty here reigns supreme. It has been described and should be recognized 
as the dominant social value of these people. In property-mindedness they 
are second to no one, not even to ourselves. Even individual names are, 
among the Haida, derived from property. They talk property, live prop 
erty, manipulate property, as lustily as any group of modern business 
men. What property means to them is, nevertheless, something entirely 
different from what it means to us. As I have already stated, here as 
among most primitives the rich man and the poor man live pretty much 
in the same style. The house of a West Coast chief may be a little larger 
than that of an average native, and some allowance should also be made 
for the accumulation, often enormous, of boxes, coppers, and blankets, 
great stores of which are among his belongings, temporary though these 
may be. But outside of this his life is like that of any other man. With 
others he hunts, fishes, fights, trades, performs ceremonies. With them he 
faces those hazards which primitive life in nature brings with it. Still, 
the accumulation of property must be described as standing in the very 
centre of the social values of these people. What is accumulated, how 
ever, is valuable not in its bearing on the standard of life, nor for its 
worth in exchange, nor for the power it might give one to manipulate 
humans. Rather does its value lie in what might be called its ceremonial 


aspect. This is illustrated by the institution known as the potlatch. A 
potlatch is a feast given by one individual to another, or by a family, 
clan, or phratry 5 to another. On the occasion of such a feast, in which 
some participate as actors, others as spectators, the feast-giver distributes 
among his guests presents in the form of blankets, canoes, oil, or other 
valuables. Also, on such occasions, much property is neither used nor 
distributed but destroyed outright. For example, huge quantities of 
the greatly prized seal oil will simply be burned. The more generous the 
presents given away, the more lavish the destruction of property, the 
greater is the feast and the higher the esteem that thus accrues to 
the giver of the feast, whereas the rival to whom the feast is given suffers 
a corresponding drop in his social status. Nor does the matter rest there. 
If the former guest or guests are unable or unwilling to return the feast, 
their song is sung they will never again enjoy public esteem. It is there 
fore incumbent upon him or them to give a return feast. At this second 
feast, the presents distributed on the initial occasion must be returned 
with interest, which is the higher the longer the return feast has been 
delayed. Among the Kwakiutl the interest amounts to 100 percent, if 
the return feast occurs one year after the initial feast. The amount of 
property destroyed on this second occasion must also be correspond 
ingly large. If the individual or group have accomplished this success 
fully, social prestige favours them once more, at the expense of the 
initial feast giver who now finds himself debased in status. 

In connexion with the potlatch the so-called 'coppers' have come into 
use. A copper is an object hammered out of native copper or perhaps 
out of a sheet of the metal left behind by a White man (see Fig. 40). 
The intrinsic worth of a copper is nil but its symbolic or ceremonial 
value may become enormous. These coppers are given away at feasts and 
the value of a copper rises with the magnificence of the feast at which 
it has figured. When a copper thus given away at a potlatch is in the 
course of time returned to the original owner at the second feast, its 
value rises once more. Thus it comes about that some of these coppers are 
worth hundreds or even thousands of blankets (a blanket has come to be 
a unit of value among these Indians, amounting to about 50 cents) . Each 
copper is known by a name which bespeaks its high ceremonial signifi 
cance. Among such names are: All-Other-Coppers-Are- Ashamed-to-Look- 
at-It (this specimen was worth 7500 blankets) , Steel -Head-Salmon (6000 

6 A phratry is a social subdivision of a tribe, which is, as a rule, further sub 
divided into clans or gentes. When the number of phratries is two, as among the 
Tlingit or Haida, they are also referred to as 'moieties' or 'dual divisions' (see 
p. 330). 



blankets), Il-Makes-the-House-Empty-of-Blankets (5000 blankets), and 
so on. A broken copper is even more valuable than a whole one. As a 
copper passes from hand to hand, certain parts of it are broken off, but 
the several separate parts continue to function as a unit. Finally only 
the T-shaped section is left whole, which is a copper's most valuable 
part, amounting to about two-thirds of its total value. Among the 
Kwakiutl a chief may break a copper 
and present the broken parts to his rival 
at a feast. Then the challenged chief 
might take his own copper, break it and 
return both broken coppers tot the origi 
nal owner at the return feast. \This will 
be accompanied by the usual enhance 
ment of prestige. Instead of doing this, 
however, he might throw the pieces of 
both coppers into the ocean. Then he is 
a truly great man, for no possible re 
turn can be expected from this process, 
whereas in instances like the preceding, 
when the broken coppers continue to 
circulate at feasts, there is always the 
expectation of receiving back what one 
has given away, and more besides. 

It will now be seen that the essence 
of social position among these people 
rests in these feasts. The feasts them- FIG. 40. A KWAKIUTL COPPER. 
selves represent the most coveted and (^, The Social Organization and 
. . - , , becret Societies oj the tLwakiutl 

appreciated use to which wealth can be i n( iians.} This copper appears in 
put. The social value of wealth, then, Fig. 41 (p. 156) at the extreme 
does not lie in what it does for your ri s ht of a row of coppers.) 
mode of life, nor in what you can buy for it, nor in the power over 
other individuals which it might bring, but in the opportunity it gives 
you to give that accumulated wealth away as presents or destroy it out 
right at a potlatch. If there is accumulation here, it is in anticipation of 
distribution or destruction. What counts is not how much you possess 
but how much you can afford to part with. The feasts here are given not 
so much to people as against people. 'Rivals fight with property alone,' 
say the Kwakiutl, and the best way to humiliate one's rival is to 'flatten 
him out' by means of a sumptuous feast. 

On account of the vast amount of property involved in a feast, even a 
prominent chief cannot afford to give such a potlatch alone. Usually he 



is assisted in such an enterprise by his family, clan, phratry, or friends. 
Not infrequently most of the wealth of an individual, clan, or other social 
division may change hands on occasion of a great feast. Property here 
is in constant flux. Ti is ( c;iven awav and destroyed in astounding quan- 


tities. And as property passes from hand to hand or disappears, the so 
cial prestige of individuals goes up or down c (see Fig. 41) . 

These customs illustrate the radical difference in the significance of 
property between these Indians and ourselves. The enhancement of social 

6 An interesting excrescence of potlatch psychology may be seen in the marriage 
practices of the Kwakiutl, among whom these ceremonial feasts have acquired 
such extravagant prominence. When a man -wants to marry a girl he presents his 
prospective father-in-law with a considerable amount of property, in return for 
which he expects to receive not only his bride but some of the privileges of her 
clan, including at times the crest itself. The wife is then regarded as the first 
installment of the return payment on the part of the father-in-law. As children are 
born to the couple, further payments are made by the father-in-law. The more 
children, moreover, the higher the interest on these payments: for the first child, 
200 percent interest, for the second and third, 300. After this the father-in-law is 
regarded as having acquitted himself. At the same time he has redeemed his 
daughter, and in consequence the marriage is regarded as annulled: she is now 
free to return to her parents. She may also, if she chooses, remain with her hus 
band. Then, say the Kwakiutl, she is 'staying in the house for nothing.' The hus 
band, however, may be unwilling to stake the continuance of his matrimonial alli 
ance on the disposition of his wife. In such a case he will make another payment 
to the father-in-law, thus extending his claim upon her. This peculiar and to us 
ridiculous way of treating marriage, while incomprehensible if taken alone, be 
comes feasible enough in the light of potlatch psychology. 


prestige through the distribution and squandering of wealth might at first 
blush impress us not only as esoteric but as absurd. It must not be for 
gotten, however, that this very element is not by any means absent from 
our own customs, namely those once described by Veblen as 'conspicuous 
waste.' The household equipment and ways of life of one of our rich 
men may within limits contribute to his comfort, luxuries, sporting pro 
clivities, and the like. But there is also in all this an element of showing 
off. He wants to display his wealth, to give evidence of its extent. It is 
well known that many members of our wealthy leisure class may live 
economically and even stingily in their regular daily habits, but when 
it comes to a public occasion, a ball, banquet, garden or yachting party, 
an excessive amount of wealth will be squandered on these. They have 
advertising value. They show how much the owner can afford to waste. 
Similarly the jewellery which bedecks a millionaire's wife is not so much 
a measure of his personal appreciation of the lady, as of her function as 
a show-window of his financial prowess: the wives of other rich men, 
not so fortunate, cannot afford quite the same measure of splendour. The 
wealth of the Coast natives can thus be designated as ceremonial wealth, 
and the potlatch as a symbol of its extent, in a particular case. The entire 
complex has little indeed to do with that basic significance of economic 
goods which leads one to describe them as necessities or even luxuries of 
life. On the contrary, the whole situation in which wealth here plays a 
part could be more accurately characterized as conventional, symbolic, 
and to a degree, playful. 7 

A Maori Feast 

The complexity and efficiency of Maori gardening, as well as their 
handling of one type of property accumulation, are illustrated by their 
feasts, at which enormous quantities of food are amassed and distributed. 
'In the northerly district of the North Island,' writes Firth in this con- 

7 This vicarious functioning of a cultural feature, which at times becomes the 
source of its major local significance, can be illustrated by other instances. With 
fine discernment, Wissler once pointed out that the inter-tribal wars of the Plains 
Indians may well be described as ceremonial. These Indians, split into numerous 
tribes though they are, are the carriers of a well-knit and relatively uniform cul 
tural complex. Nevertheless, they have throughout known times been almost con 
stantly engaged in internal strife, of which the stealing of horses, war raids, and 
'counting coup' on one's enemies, are among the best-known earmarks. These per 
sistent warlike activities, which mean so much to the ego of a Plains brave and to 
the vanity of his bride or spouse, cannot really be compared with modern wars. 
There is here neither nationalism nor imperialism, neither annexation of territory 
nor economic exploitation of the weak. Instead, these activities should rather be 
envisaged as a ceremonial by-play of a civilization in which military exploits have 
become traditional. 


nexion, c huge stages or scaffolds were built to support the food, and tree 
trunks of quite large size were used in their erection. ... It is obvious 
from the accounts of all the authors . . . that an immense amount of 
labour was necessary to construct them, measuring as they did upwards 
of 50 feet in height. Some were conical while others were of the shape 
of a triangular prism. Colenso states that the food was generally piled 
up in the form of a pyramid, 80-90 feet high, and 20-30 feet square at 
the base. A straight trunk of a tree was set up in the ground, strong poles 
were fixed around it, and a series of horizontal platforms was then erected 
to encircle the scaffolding at intervals of 7 to 9 feet. The whole structure 
was then filled in by baskets of provisions, and built up so as to present 
to the eye, when completed, one solid mass of food! At a great feast 
given ... in 1849 . . . the stage was said to have been one of the 
largest ever put up. It was oblong in shape, 211 feet long, 18 feet wide 
at the base, tapering to 8 feet wide at the top. To form the framework 
. . . spars were raised perpendicularly, several of them being squared 
timbers. Five of them were from 90 to 100 feet high, topped by smaller 
spars 10-15 feet in height, bound firmly together by the strong torotoro 
vine, making the total height of the turret in the centre from 115 to 130 
feet. From this eight other turrets, ranging from 80 to 90 feet, ran the 
length of the staging. On these turrets were built the platforms on which 
the food was laid out, at intervals of 10 to 12 feet, from the ground to 
the top. 

'Considering the primitive tools of the Maori, 5 continues the author, 
'and the almost entire lack of mechanical appliances to assist labour, the 
erection of such stages must be considered as a stupendous achievement. 
The mere organization of men and materials for the work was an eco 
nomic feat of no mean kind. The manifest purpose of building such struc 
tures was to impress the guests and to give scope for the display of the 
food to the best advantage. The effect was much more striking than if the 
provisions had been merely heaped on the ground.' 8 The distribution and 
partaking of the food on such occasions was accompanied by much cere 
mony, magical rites, and the singing of songs. 

'The fact that the natives,' remarks Firth, 'composed songs about the 
different kinds of food to be sung in conjunction with the ceremonial 
bearing of it from the ovens for consumption reveals the keenness which 
attended its display and the interest which was taken in the event. . . . 
Considerable importance was attached to the ceremony of apportioning 
the food, and every effort was made by the donors of it to make the 

8 Raymond Firth, Primitive Economics of the New Zealand Maori, pp. 310-312. 
(Reprinted by permission of George Routledge and Sons, Ltd.) 


presentation as effective as possible. A somewhat similar psychological 
attitude is also indicated in the many proverbs relating to food. . . . 
Some foods, however, evoked much more interest than others. For in 
stance, a saying current among the Urewera is "Should you awaken me 
from my sleep let it be for the purpose of eating hinau bread." It is 
clear that the interest in food was not always excited simply by the desire 
felt for it or as a means of appeasing hunger. It supplied the means of 
entertaining guests, of inducing other people to perform certain tasks, of 
fulfilling numerous social obligations. In short, . . . food represented 
potential hospitality, economic control, reputation, and social power. In 
virtue of this, an emotional interest only indirectly derived from its 
physical qualities attached itself in the Maori mind to accumulations of 
food. It was this which played so important a part in the determination 
of its value.' 9 

Ibid., pp. 313-314. 


Chapter XI 

Like technology, art is coextensive with man; industrial art appears 
among primitives wherever a particular industry is highly developed. 

Our examination of primitive technology has revealed the fact that 
there is little evidence here of that carelessness in execution or technical 
imperfection which people were wont to ascribe to the primitive crafts 
men. Primitive technology may in certain respects deserve the term prim 
itive, but much of it is far from crude. It can moreover be observed that 
many articles of primitive industry are made better than woulct\be neces 
sary for practical purposes. Consider, for example, the boats of Polynesia 
or its woodwork in general, the boxes or spoons of the Pacific Coast In 
dians (see Plate XII) , the pots of the Pueblos or of the Huichol, the bas 
kets of the California Indians (see Plate XIII) or of Guiana. It seems 
that the technical skill developed in industry becomes a stimulus for still 
higher skill. The craftsman responds to the lure" of technical achieve 
ment and at times plays with the possibilities of variation presented by 
the technical task. Thus skill from being a means becomes an end. Skill, 
thus exalted, turns into virtuosity, a triumph in technique, and valuable 
as such. This brings us to the threshold of art. 

The industrial object itself is not as passive in this context as might be 
imagined. Granted the aesthetic impulse, the texture and form of the ob 
ject invite artistic embellishment. The flat angular or curved surfaces of 
blankets, boxes, boats, pots, the necks and handles of certain articles, the 
borders of garments and mats, the grips of tools and weapons, and the 
edges of all things, call for art. In one form or another features of sur 
face and shape of industrial objects are seized upon for purposes of artis 
tic effect and expression. 1 

1 A word is due here to the distinction between decorative art and art as such. 
The distinction is like that between making an object beautiful and making a 
beautiful object. In the latter instance the product picture, statue, edifice 
materializes the aesthetic impulse or creative idea of the artist; nothing further is 
demanded. In the former, the *art' serves the purpose of embellishment. In primi 
tive society the close relationship of plastic and graphic art with industry reveals 
its prevailingly decorative nature. But decorative art did not perish with primitive- 




(John R. S wanton, 'The Haida,* Jesup North Pacific Expedition, Vol. V.) 




1 say 'expression' deliberately, for the primitive artist is not by any 
means as passive an imitator of traditional style as he has often been 
represented as being. In those areas where careful studies of primitive 
art have been made ethnologists have always found a typical variability 
in the form and decoration of artistic objects. Not that the tribal style is 
disregarded or radically changed. This, of course, is rare (see p. 200). 
The woman embroiderer of the Plains, Iroquois, or Algonquin, the man 
carver of the Coast, the woman potter of the Southwest, the wood- 
craftsman of Polynesia, work along well-established lines of technique 
and design-pattern. But within these fixed limits, room is left for infinite 
variation, often minute, at times fairly radical, variation which cannot be 
explained by mere inaccuracy in reproduction, but only by the individual 
technical aptitude of the artist, a peculiarity of his imagination, or the 
direction of his playfulness. 2 In the Plains, for example, the units of the 
embroidery patterns are combined into a great variety of more compli 
cated designs. Of course, even these composite designs follow certain 
tribal principles as to decorative field and the arrangement of design 
units, but room is left here for considerable variation in detail (see 
p. 173). 

Design, Technique, and Material 

In the absence of relevant psychological material, due to the decay of 
much primitive art or to our inability to penetrate into the psyche of 
the artist, the psychological side of primitive art must needs be recon 
structed by purely speculative analysis. At times, however, the suggestive- 
ness. In architecture, for example, whether Egyptian, Greek, Moslem, Gothic, or 
modern, an important aspect of the art lies in surface decoration. In the Italian 
Renaissance of the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries what may be called 
'free' art flourished side by side with the art of decoration. The latter, embracing 
what was already known as the 4 minor arts,' clung closer to industry. Every article 
of house, palace, or church interior, every bit of attire, every object of use or 
luxury, called for adornment. Such artists as the della Robbia brothers or 
Benvenuto Cellini shone mainly as artistic craftsmen, that is, highly accomplished 
decorators. At the same time the partial contradiction between the two forms of 
art also led to a certain tension. Thus when Raphael, whose artistic genius chafed 
under the restrictions of merely decorative fresco, was confronted with the task 
of painting the antechamber of the Sistine Chapel, he started out in true fresco 
fashion, but presently the creative urge of the free artist gained the upper hand, 
and he proceeded to paint pictures with scant regard for limitations of surface or 
the dimensions of the chamber. 

2 In an interesting experiment Boas has shown that a group of primitive artists, 
when confronted with the task of reproducing a design, developed variations 
characterized by the author as a sort of artistic handwriting. This result could 
not be described as a new style, nor were the individual variations of the kind 
usually found within the definite style of a cultural district or area. 


ness of the material itself helps one to transcend this handicap. We find, 
for instance, that certain rafters of Maori buildings are covered by curvi 
linear patterns which at first seem complex and unanalysable. On more 
careful inspection, however, it can be recognized that the patterns con 
sist, in the main, of combinations and recombinations of a simple curvi 
linear element, not unlike a large comma, which appears in a variety of 
positions (see Fig. 42a) . Once this is realized it becomes easy to visualize 
the artist experimenting and playing, perhaps deliberately, with the ef 
fects produced by these combinations. 

Industrial art, in particular, which has grown out of technical proc 
esses operating with specific materials, never wholly loses its dependence 
upon these elements of technique or of substance. Not that definite forms 
of object or decoration are invariably associated with particular mate 
rials. Such absolute dependence should not be looked for here. But the 
material does set certain limits to the form of the object and to the char 
acter of the art as well. Pots or other vessels made of sandstone do not 
lend themselves to the elaboration of form in curves or to such fine 
nuances of surface or shape as are observable in pots fashioned of clay, 
where the yielding and resisting material invites further elaboration and 
permits its execution. The large, at times enormous, stone statues or 
monuments of the Mexicans and Peruvians, and many features of their 
temples and other edifices, bear unmistakable evidence of the character 
and limitations of the structural material, namely stone. 8 

Wood allows of much greater delicacy of technique, including open 
work or filigree, even though the tools be crude. But woodwork, of course, 
must not necessarily bear this character. The skilful and highly finished 
art of the Northwest Coast lacks almost completely just this element of 

3 It is relevant to the text to remember here what is sometimes referred to as 
the miracle of the Gothic cathedral. In this case the limitations of the material, 
namely stone, were transcended hy an unusual and prolonged concentration on this 
task of a long series of creative artists and expert craftsmen. As has been often 
stated, the problem here was to spirit away the stone. As Worringer put it in his 
Form in Gothic: *A11 expression to which Greek architecture attained was at 
tained through the stone, by means of the stone; all expression to which Gothic 
architecture attained was attained and this is the full significance of the contrast 
in spite of the stone.' From the standpoint of the principle of the arch, the 
Gothic was technically two rungs above the Incas and the Mayas. They lacked even 
the pre- Gothic semicircular arch of the Romanesque. In consequence, their struc 
tures, however remarkable otherwise, were heavy of exterior, and in the interior, 
when roofed, they lacked height and light. The pointed arch of the Gothic 
cathedral, by eschewing the horizontal, solved the problem of height, and with 
it, by providing vast spaces for illumination from the outside, through long win 
dows, it solved the problem of light. Before the magic of invention even stone 
capitulates; but also: it holds out stubbornly to the last. 


lightness. On the other hand, the delicate filigree work of Melanesian 
masks and ceremonial objects or of the carved boat-prows of Kamerun 
could scarcely be accomplished except in wood, at least not by primitive 

Similarly, the very technique of basketry invariably lends a character 
of angularity to any design applied to it. Also the fact that the substance 
of the basket is woven and consists of interlocking strands, rhythmically 
revealed or covered up, provides in and by itself a pattern, or a base for 
a variety of patterns, which can be 'read into' the basket by a mere effort 

(Max Schmidt, V 'olkerkunde,) 

Max Schmidt is a great basketry enthusiast and tends to over-stress technical 
determinants. A careful examination of these patterns or an attempt to repro 
duce them with strips of paper will, I think, convince the student that technique, 
unaided by idea, will not produce the patterns. 

of the imagination even when the material is of uniform colour. As soon 
as the strands vary in colour which is sometimes naturally the case, 
some strands being lighter than others, and can also be effected by arti 
ficial means the pattern of the angular design can be made to stand 
out at will (see Fig. 42). In all such cases, however, it must also be 
remembered that the character of the material or nature of the technique 
can only affect the artist's imagination or intent but cannot in any strict 
sense determine it. The type of pattern }ie wants to represent pre-exists 
in his mind. Perhaps it was suggested by some other material or tech 
nique, or by an experience extraneous to art, such as the memory of a 
form or an animal. This he is intent on portraying or representing, and 
he will do so, using the facilities of the technique when possible, and 
overcoming it as a handicap should this prove necessary. 

How varying the results can be in this interaction between object, de- 



sign, and artist, can be illustrated by a juxtaposition between the wood 
carvings of the Northwest Coast and those of the New Zealand Maori. In 
both cases, as stated, wood is the medium; also, the decorated objects 
range through a great variety of forms. The Indian in his designs and 
carvings represents various animals and birds in a semi-realistic, semi- 
conventional form. In this process certain features are utilized which 
are firmly fixed and may thus serve as earmarks of the art : for example, 
the application of heavy lines as a sort of frame for parts of the design, 

Fie. 42a. MAORI SCROLL, 

the eccentricity of the curves and circles, the employment of the so-called 
c eye ornament,' and the like. In his attempt to adjust the design to the ob 
ject, which is frequently unsuitable for the application of the design as a 
whole, the artist is here led to break up the representation into segments 
which thus acquire a certain freedom of movement, while also preserving 
a formal unity of spatial arrangement. 4 The Maori artist, on the other 
hand, while not unmindful of the character of the surface and shape of 
the object, also displays a marked independence of these features. The 
decorations on many of his carved products make the impression that the 
artist was unwilling to permit the limitations of surface to affect the size 
or character of his design, except to a slight degree. As a result, the de 
sign often seems to extend beyond the physical limits of the object; or to 
put it differently, only part of the design, as visualized by the artist, is 
materialized in the object. One consequence of this attitude is the disre 
gard of proportions in the design in relation to the object. What can be 
represented is represented, the rest is cut off by the physical edge of the 

When a design is transferred from one material or jtechnique to an 
other from basketry to pottery, for example, from wood to stone, or 
vice versa the influence of medium and surface assert themselves in a 

4 For further details of Northwest Coast art see p. 179. 


variety of ways. W. H. Holmes, one of the pioneers in this field, drew 
attention long ago to the peculiarities of pottery decoration traceable 
in many instances to the baskets over which pots, at least in some dis 
tricts, were originally moulded. Similarly, in the case of Polynesian 
clubs: to these a wrapping of bark or cord strands is often applied; in 
other instances, a type of carving appears which mimics skilfully the 
wrapping that is no longer there. 5 

Realistic and Geometrical Art 

Much discussion has been aroused by the problem of realistic designs 
in relation to geometrical or conventionalized ones. The patterns on pots, 
baskets, rugs, walls of caves or houses, sides of canoes, dishes, and the 
like, often suggest more or less realistically the forms of animals, birds, 
snakes, crocodiles, or of plants or objects of human manufacture. The 
same is true of the work in relief on pots or objects of wood, bone, or 
stone. On the other hand, equally numerous drawings, paintings, etch 
ings, carvings, on similar objects are wholly devoid of any realistic 
suggestion but must be described as more or less geometrical, consisting 
of lines, straight or curved, or angular and curvilinear figures. Such 
geometrical designs, although bearing but the faintest suggestion of 
realism or none at all, are often interpreted by the makers or users of 
the objects as representations of animals, birds, natural features, or 
even abstract ideas. Sometimes the name given to the object or pattern 
reflects such a realistic interpretation. 

In view of facts such as these, some anthropologists of the late nine 
teenth century, who were primarily interested in origins and laws of 
development, conceived a theory according to which realistic designs 
belonged to the beginning, geometrical ones to the end of a genetic series. 
Such, for example, is the theory of A. C. Haddon in his Evolution in Art. 
The earliest form of art, we are told, was realistic, but as generation 
succeeded generation, the influence of technique and other causes led 
to the introduction of geometrical forms which in time completely oblit- 

5 In modern days these phenomena can be conveniently observed in the do 
main of fashion. On the one hand, there is the material: stiff materials, such as 
lame or brocade, call for straight or angular lines; soft and thick materials, 
like velvet or plush, are utilized for heavy curves and the effect called 'fullness' 
in the dressmaker's jargon. Soft, thin, and delicate materials, on the other hand, 
like chiffon or crepe, are employed for light and airy effects. And once more, the 
change of material can leave its trace in the patterns and shapes produced. 

The technical origin of a design can often be detected in spite of the medium, 
as when a carpet design appears on a linoleum rug, or a pattern originated in carved 
stone is utilized as a wall-paper motif. 


erated the once realistic outlines of the design. The realistic origin of 
these designs survived in the symbolic meanings or names attached to 

Like all such simplistic theories, this one had in its favour the advan 
tage of a single and definite solution of a complex problem. It held the 
field for awhile, but could not withstand the adverse criticism born of 
more penetrating studies of materials and a more critical approach. It 
was pointed out that the very arrangement of specimens such as Haddon's 
in a quasi-chronological sequence was wholly arbitrary in the absence 
of proof that the realistic specimens really represented the earlier stages 
or that the other specimens were later. Such proof was necessary, if 
what the theory claimed was the reality of a historic sequence, not merely 
the presence of a variety of forms, some realistic, others geometrical, still 
others partaking of both characters. To arrange the specimens in a 
series of progressive conventionalization was to prejudge the issue. 9 

Again, instances were found, such as that of Plains embroidery, where 
the priority of the geometrical patterns seemed beyond doubt (see 
p. 176). The independent origin of such patterns is further suggested 
by the fact referred to above, that in basketry, for example, the re 
quirements of technique naturally lead to geometrical lines and com 
binations. 7 

6 Substituting noses for Haddon's crocodiles, one might as well arrange the per 
sons of any locality in such a way as to make them constitute a series beginning 
with a diminutive pug and proceeding through many intervening gradations to 
a Cyrano. Surely no one would interpret the experiment as demonstrating a genetic 
succession ! 

7 An excellent theoretical argument bearing on this point and developed on the 
basis of an elaborate abd minute study of a definitely circumscribed set of objects, 
will be found in Boas's 'Decorative Designs of Alaskan Needle Cases' (Proceedings, 
United States National Museum, vol. XXXIV, 1908, pp. 321-344). The material 
presented in this study which, as the title indicates, deals with Eskimo needle 
cases, is too complex for our purposes (see Fig. 16, p. 77), but Boas's con 
clusion will be read with profit: *I believe a considerable amount of other evidence 
can be brought forward sustaining the point of view that I have tried to develop, 
namely, that decorative forms may be largely explained as results of the play 
of the imagination under the restricting influence of a fixed conventional style. 
Looking at this matter from a purely theoretical point of view, it is quite obvious 
that in any series in which we have at one end a realistic figure and at the other 
end a conventional figure, the arrangement is due entirely to our judgment re 
garding similarities. If, without further proof, we interpret such a series as a 
genetic one, we simply substitute for the classificatory principle which has guided 
us in the arrangement of the series a new principle which has nothing to do with 
the principle of our classification. No proof whatever can be given that the series 
selected according to similarities really represents an historical sequence. It is 
just as conceivable that the same series may begin at the conventional end and 
that realistic forms have been read into it, and we might interpret the series, 
therefore, as an historical series beginning at the opposite end. Since both of these 


The principal argument, however, is psychological. In primitive as 
well as in later times purely geometrical combinations of straight or 
curved lines, angular or rounded figures, coloured or uncoloured, carry 
an aesthetic appeal. This being so, the numerous occasions for the origi 
nation of geometrical patterns offered by material, technique, and acci 
dent must have been seized upon from the beginning and subsequently 
elaborated quite independently of any realistic antecedents. 8 

At the end of a penetrating study of the decorative art of the Golds, an 
Amur River tribe, Berthold Laufer arrives at certain conclusions relevant 
to the issues here raised. I shall reproduce his argument in greatly abbre 
viated form. The decorative art of this region carried out in different 
techniques and materials, has reached an especially high degree of de 
velopment. Laufer shows conclusively that the Golds and other Amur 
tribes must have derived the inspiration for their art from the Chinese. 
This is indicated, among other features, by the fact that the complexity 

tendencies are active in the human mind at the present time, it seems much more 
likely that both processes have been at -work constantly, and that neither the one 
nor the other theory really represents the historical development of decorative 
design.' Continuing, Boas draws attention to the fact that the theory of develop 
ment from realistic to conventional designs does not solve the problem of the 
diversity of conventional styles. The nature of these styles remains unaccounted 
for; nor does the introduction of the influence of technical motives quite solve 
the problem. Some very simple designs may be almost entirely due to the influence 
of technique, but it is powerless to explain the elaboration of detail. As examples 
Boas mentions the West African designs in woven checkered mattings where realistic 
figures alternate with geometrical band designs, the designs on cedar-bark mat 
tings of the Ojibway and the North Pacific Coast, the designs in the same tech 
nique in South America. The technical conditions in all these cases are the same, 
but the styles are radically different. Finally, Boas refers to the important point 
that fundamental types of design characteristic of the styles of certain areas may 
yet be interpreted in a variety of ways by the people who make the designs, as 
well as by those who use them. In these cases it is often probable and sometimes 
certain that these interpretations are secondary. In many instances, however, the 
designs so interpreted may themselves have been borrowed from the outside, thus 
complicating the situation still further. 

8 To transfer to modern conditions the theoretical point here raised in connection 
with primitive art, I may once more refer to what occurs in the domain of fashion. 
When a certain type of garment establishes itself as an accepted style, the result 
ing fashion never consists in a slavish reproduction of the one original pattern. 
What actually takes place is that a great variety of garments are worn, differing 
in detail but similar in the points prescribed by the style. Out of these differences 
or through a suggestion from outside an invention, an actress, a war there 
soon arises an outline of a new style which in its turn asserts itself, leading to a 
similar differentiation. Now the large variety of different garments which fall 
between one style and the next, or certain features of such garments, could be 
readily conceived as constituting stages in a genetic series. But this interpreta 
tion would evidently be erroneous, for the variations in question are practically 
synchronous and must be regarded as expressions of creative ingenuity and in 
dividual taste disporting themselves within the limits of an accepted style. 


and perfection of that art varies inversely as the distance of a particular 
tribe from Chinese territory. The dominant decorative unit throughout 
is the spiral with derivatives, cock and fish providing the favourite pat 
terns. The prominence of the cock here is especially interesting in view 
of the fact that these tribes until recently had never seen cocks and must 
therefore have taken their motifs over from the Chinese, originally per 
haps lured by what the author calls its 'artistic adaptability.' That such 
is exclusively the case,' Lauf er goes on to say, c is seen from all the various 
positions of fish and cock which are suggested solely by the tendency to 
create new and aesthetically effective forms. The strongly developed 
form-perception prevents the reproduction of realistic representations 
. . . , as shown in the designs of numerous animals none of which have 
endured in their natural forms, but rather have deteriorated into a style 
of conventionality adapted to the cock and fish ornament, as the musk 
deer, the dragon, and so on.' 

Cock and fish appear in Gold ornaments in a vast variety of conven 
tionalized forms, some representations being fairly realistic, others so 
thoroughly conventionalized as to make the original creature unrecogniz 
able to one unfamiliar with Gold ornaments. The case, it will be seen, 
is strictly comparable to Haddon's Melanesian crocodiles. This is what 
Laufer has to say in this connexion : 'If we now take into consideration 
the evolution of the cock and fish ornaments, we arc impressed first by 
the fact that differing and numerous stages of development are met with 
frequently even in the same design; so that the development appears 
almost to be based on a juxtaposition irf space rather than on a succession 
in time. In other words, the question arises, are we correct in supposing 
a definite scale of gradations in the stages of development, from the 
cock and fish, true to nature, down to the hardly recognizable conven 
tional patterns? The whole series of forms does undeniably occur. These, 
however, should under no circumstances be regarded as a chronological 
sequence; for it is by no means true that the natural picture of the cock 
or fish is sunk in oblivion, and that the conventional form has exclusively 
taken its place. On the contrary, we see that the single phases of develop 
ment are nothing more nor less than various forms of different kinds of 
adaptation to certain spaces or given geometrical forms, mostly spiral. 
This process of adaptation, constantly repeating itself in multitudinous 
ways, has created a large number of varieties, still coexisting side by 
side, like the varieties of a zoological species. One does not exclude the 
other but each carries on its separate existence, because art indulges in 
a wealth of forms and requires an abundance of varieties for building 
up large fundamental compositions.' 


In commenting, finally, upon the variety of attitudes in which the cock 
appears in these ornaments, Laufer writes: 'Here we have perhaps a 
primitive form from which all others have genetically originated; rather 
a long series of fundamental forms exist, based upon the observation of 
the various natural attitudes and motions of this ever-moving bird. We 
have distinguished a series of types, we have found standing, reclining, 
perching and perfectly erect cocks, some with beaks turned downwards, 
others with heads looking upward. All these types exist side by side 
without having developed one from another. The conventionalizations 
proper have arisen only through the influence of the fish ornament on 
the cock type. This is the same process which was above designated, in 
a more general style, as an assimilation to existing forms. Thus the 
cock for instance, assumes a fish body to get a spiral form more suitable 
for the entire ornament; or its tail is represented as a fish tail, its pinion 
as a spiral. Finally forms are even found in which the whole cock is 
composed of geometrical constituents. These have not been evolved from 
the form of the cock, but they are the primary element of the material 
from which it is constructed. This ensues from the diversity of function 
of the geometrical components. The spiral for instance may symbolically 
express all possible things. It may serve to indicate the cock's body, its 
pinion, its tail feathers. It may even perform two or more functions. . . . 
It would be absurd to infer from this that the spiral is the final result 
of the gradual conventionalization of purely realistic beginnings, it is 
rather a given prius, . . . which is employed for the symbolical expres 
sion of the most varied things since its forms are so convenient for this 
particular purpose.' 9 

Primitive Art and Children's Art 

Another common tendency in the study of primitive art is to compare 
it with that of our children. The first and obvious objection to such a view 
lies in the fact, repeatedly stressed, that much primitive art exhibits skill, 
technical command, and imaginativeness of a very high order. The deco 
rative carvings of the Maori or Haida, the carved clubs of the Marquesans 
and the Tonga Islanders, the painted pots of the Pueblos and those of 
the Chiriqui, the woven blankets of the Chilkat and the Navajo, the spun 
materials of Peru or India, the bone carvings of the Eskimo and those 
of the Sudan, the bronze castings, finally, of the African Gold Coast, all 

9 Jesup North Pacific Expedition, vol. IV, part 2, pp. 76-78. Even a cursory study 
of Laufer's monograph will greatly facilitate the understanding of the remarks 
made in the text. 


of these and many other artistic products of the primitive world cannot 
be passed over slightingly as mere stepping-stones to something later 
and better. They are art, conceived in accordance with general aesthetic 
principles, carried out with great technical skill, in conformity with the 
requirements of local style, and with sufficient latitude to allow for in 
dividual artistic creativeness. No child, of course, could do such work. 

In fairness to the theory, however, it must be admitted that much prim 
itive art, whether realistic or geometrical, is crude, and that one at least 
of the reasons for this crudeness lies in deficient skill in handling cer 
tain tools or in the crudeness of the tools themselves, or in both. Now 
this, of course, also applies to children. To this extent a certain similarity 
is discernible between the artistic or technical efforts of children and 
some of the cruder work of primitives. A crude specimen is like another 
crude specimen, at least in its crudeness. But we may not leave the case 
here, for primitive art, however crude, remains distinct from the artistic 
products of children, in so far as the art work of a primitive tribe inevi 
tably rests upon a background of an artistic tradition embodied in a style. 
However a particular local art may have originated, and however simple 
it may be, it has become fixed by tradition and comes to constitute an 
artistic convention of the group. Therefore, when the men or women of 
a tribe execute their art work in a certain way, it is not because they can 
not do it in any other way 10 but because the work is dominated by the 
prescribed style, the traditional way of doing that particular thing. 11 

Whenever one is tempted to compare modern children with primitive 
adults, in art or anything else, one should, moreover, remember that 
primitives also have children and that these are related to their adults 
as our children are to theirs. Modern children might profitably be com 
pared to those of the primitives as Margaret Mead, among others, has 
done so successfully but any parallel between modern children and 
primitive adults, while not necessarily futile, should be drawn with the 
strictest of reservations. 

I The wood-carving of the Pacific Coast has, as we shall see, a very distinctive 
style, far from pure realism. But these natives, supremely skilled in the ways of 
wood-craft, can turn out remarkable specimens of realistic art, when they so choose 
(see Figs, 67 and 68 and Plates XXIV and XXV). 

II One of the tasks of the modern experimental school, in which incidentally 
it has proved most successful, is precisely that of liberating the artistic and creative 
urges of the child before it becomes affected by the prevailing styles and techniques. 


(Wissler, Decorative Art of the Sioux Indians.) 


(Wissler, Decorative Art of the Sioux Indians.) 


(Wissler, Decorative Art of the Sioux Indians.) 


(Wissler, Decorative Art of the Sioux Indians.) 


(Wissler, Decorative Art of the Sioux Indians.) 


(Wissier, Dcconttivc Art o/ the Siou.\ Indians.) 


(Wissler after Maximilian.) This picture, together with that of a Kwakiutl 
ceremony (Plate XXVIII'), give an excellent idea of the tenseness and excitement 
of such occasions. 


( W I wsl er af I e r M a x I m i 1 i u n . ) 


(Max Schmidt, Volkerkunde.) 

a b c 


(Swanton, 'The Haida.') 


(Boas, Primitive Art.} 


(Nihlac'k, The Coasf Indians of Southern Alaska and 
Worthe.m ftrttish (lofttrnbia.) 


(Niblack, The Coast. Indians of Southern Alaska 
and Northern British Columbia.) 


(Niblack, The Coast Indians of Southern Alaska and Northern British Columbia.) 


(Boas, Social Organization and Secret Societies of the Kivakiutl Indians.) 


Chapter XII 

Plains Embroidery 

In approaching the art of the Dakota, a Siouan-speaking tribe of the 
Plains area, a few words are due the general culture of the Indians of 
the Plains. These people in their geographical distribution spread 
roughly over the area once inhabited by the buffalo (see Map, Fig. 43). 
Their material life has always been rooted in that animal. The flesh of 
the buffalo was consumed in a variety of forms. Its hide was used for the 

Distribution of 
buffalo about 
utline of Plains 

American Indians of the Plains.) 

famed Plains tipi, as well as for shields, garments, moccasins, and par- 
fleches. Water transportation was little developed, although canoes were 
known among some of the tribes. The northern Village tribes, who had 
no canoes, used a bull-boat a tub-like contrivance consisting of buffalo 
skins stretched over a twig frame for crossing the Missouri River. 
Land transportation in ancient times was on foot, while baggage was 
transported on dogs with the assistance of the travois (see Fig. 7, p. 67) . 
After the arrival of the Spaniards, the horse gradually spread through 
the Plains from the South northward and was thenceforth used for rid- 



ing in war and chase, and as a draft animal as well, the old dog travois 
having been greatly enlarged to take advantage of the larger and 
stronger animal. Pottery was not manufactured here, nor is there any 
basketry or true weaving, the art of the Plains taking the form of bead- 
work on buffalo hide or of painting on the same material. There was 
also some work in wood, stone, and bone. The social organization 
varied. Whereas among the eastern tribes, a gentile organization and 
dual phratries are found, the Crow in the northwestern Plains have 
clans and phratries which here are not moieties, whereas the western 
tribes lack sibs altogether, the primary social unit being a loose local 
band, regarded by Wissler as the basic and oldest social unit of the 
Plains region. There was a Camp Circle organization (see Fig. 36, p. 
108), more or less developed in the different tribes, which was especially 
associated with the buffalo hunt. A large number of men's societies oc 
curred, some religious, others military. The Sun Dance had a wide dis 
tribution. There was also a ceremonial complex centring around sweat- 
house observances. 

The Plains Indians occupied a wide territory in which considerable 
tribal differences obtained, in language as well as in culture. Over and 
above this, however, a marked cultural unity is also observable, espe 
cially after the introduction of the horse. Concentration on the buffalo, 
exaltation of war with its associated customs, elaborate ceremonialism, 
and some other traits, were characteristic of Plains life as a whole. Along 
the borders of the area, where these tribes came in contact with other 
areas, cultural features less typical of the Plains developed. 

The embroidery art of the women is geometrical but also symbolic in 
a peculiar way. An analysis of the more complex geometric patterns re 
veals the fact that they are made up of simple unit designs. In this con 
nexion pattern names have developed which are used for the simple 
decorative units as well as for the more complex designs. Turning now to 
the moccasins represented on Plate XIV, it should be said at the outset 
that the women who were the makers of these designs asserted that their 
only object in making them was purely aesthetic, that they were aiming 
at beautiful moccasins. On all the moccasins we find ornamental borders 
which follow the uppers along the edges of the soles. These borders con 
sist of small geometric designs arranged symmetrically on a background 
of uniform colour. The most frequent design here is the triangle with the 
apex pointing upward along the surface of the moccasin. This design is 
commonly referred to as the tipi pattern or 4 tenf design. In some in 
stances a small rectangular tfrea appears within the triangle and upon the 
base of it. This pattern is referred to as the 'door' or 'entrance' to the tent. 


A variation of the triangular design is a block-like figure as in 2. This 
pattern is referred to as the 'cut-out' or 'step' pattern, though the whole 
figure is still referred to as a 'tent' design. The rectangular borders 1 and 
6 are variously described as the 'bundle,' the e bag,' or the 'box.' 

While the moccasins all have this border, there is greater variation in 
the decorations of the instep. In 1 the transverse bands are referred to 
as the 'road,' 'trail,' or 'path' pattern; in brief, as 'trail' designs. The 
design in 2 is known as the 'three row' pattern, whereas the longitudinal 
band on the insteps of 3, 4, and 6 is called the 'middle row' pattern. The 
painted area between the middle row and the border has no special name 
but is simply spoken of as 'space' or the 'part between.' On 3 and 4 a 
series of small triangles will be seen extending down the middle row. 
They are designated as Vertebrae.' Of the three designs on 2, the upper 
one was called the 'arrow' design, the middle one the 'box' design, 
whereas the lowest one remained nameless. The lateral stripes in 6 which 
form the background for a series of rectangles, are referred to as the 
'filled-up' pattern. 

It will be noted that in almost all cases the names refer to objects which 
are geometrically somewhat like the designs. 

The simple design units here mentioned, as well as others that might 
have been illustrated if space permitted, comprise the following set of 
primary design units or patterns (see Fig. 44). The elaboration of these 
primary units into more complex designs can be studied on the pipe and 
tobacco bags of which three are reproduced on Plate XV. These bags, 
though used by men only, are made by women, and are regarded by both 
sexes as pure works of art. Ordinarily the men use plain bags, the 
decorated varieties being employed on special social and ceremonial 
occasions. Wissler thinks that these more complicated designs are less 
pleasing to the eye than the simpler ones and that a certain confusion of 
eye movements results from looking at them. This, of course, is partly 
a matter of taste. The Indians themselves referred to these designs as 
'looking-glass' patterns or 'reflected' patterns. 'No one seemed able to 
give a rational explanation,' says Wissler, c as to the applicability of this 
term, but it is possible that the effect of such a combination of lines and 
areas upon the observer was noted by the Indian and expressed in the 
terms given above. The experience is certainly somewhat analagous to the 
flashing of a mirror in the face.' x Wissler's interpretation does not im 
press me as very feasible. It may be suggested that the term 'looking- 

1 'Decorative Art of the Sioux Indians,' Bulletin, American Museum of Natural 
History, vol. XVIII, part 3, p. 238. This discussion of Plains art is based on Wiss 
ler's study. 



glass' or 'reflected' pattern derives from the fact that these designs are 
symmetrical both laterally and vertically, representing therefore the 
sort of figure that would result if half of the design, either vertically or 
horizontally, were reflected in water. 

Let me repeat with reference to the designs so far considered that 

D G 




twisted full of point? forked tree dragon fly 






X] \7 



pointed trails cut-out 

Fie. 44. PRIMARY DESIGN UNITS. (Wissler, American Indians of the Plains.) 

while they constitute elaborations of unit elements which are either con 
ventionalized realistic forms or geometrical shapes with realistic refer 
ence, the whole complex design is nameless and its object, according to 
the Indians, is purely aesthetic. 

In other instances the designs vary somewhat and the symbolism ac 
quires a different slant. This can be seen on the garments presented on 
Plate XVI. Garment 1 is a dress for a small girl, which is cut from a 
single piece folded along the shoulder line with a hole cut for the head, 
the sides of the skirts being sewed up. The oblong area across the shoul 
ders, breast, and back is beaded with designs on a blue background. The 


women refer to this as 'blue breast beading.' The simple designs here 
found form a complex with symbolic significance. The U-shaped figure 
on the breast of 1 represents the breast of the turtle, whereas the wing- 
like extensions represent the sides of the turtle's shell The large beaded 
area represents a lake or some other body of water in which the reflection 
of the sky is seen. Most designs within this area on the dress traditionally 
stand for reflections of objects in the sky or on the shore; the stars in 
this case are represented by the five-pointed star designs, the clouds by 
the triangular designs with their appendages. There are also four crosses 
which were supposed to have been put in purely for decorative effect. 
The small beaded area to which the strings are tied stands for the knots 
of the string. The beaded border is a repetition of the border in the large 
beaded area and is interpreted as the shore of the lake. 

There is no complete harmony here between the symbolic reference de 
termined by tradition and the attitude of the artist. A woman may tell 
you that she puts the designs in to 'please her eye/ but she also knows 
that according to tradition the designs mean 'reflections in the water' and 
the like. 

Another interesting fact is that, according to the testimony of the 
women, they sometimes dream out complex designs. In the dream the 
design usually appears on a rock or the face of a cliff, although it will 
also occur that the entire specimen in its finished form appears in the 
dream. Such experiences are ascribed to the workings of a feminine cul 
ture heroine, who according to the story seems to have been one of twin 
sisters. These twins are often spoken of as two women tied or fastened 
together. They exercised many magical functions and are believed to 
have originated the art here discussed by giving instructions to a Dakota 
woman in a dream. The belief is that this woman dreamed out many of 
the designs now current. Since her death it has become common for twin 
sisters to dream similar designs which are always ascribed to the culture 
heroine herself. Women other than twins, however, sometimes dream out 
designs which are similarly interpreted, 2 Such designs are copied by 
other women and thus established patterns later to be followed by many 
others. Wissler says that the few designs of recent dream origin which 
he had occasion to examine differed in no way from other designs which 
were not due to dreams. Wissler is right then in saying that the dream 
design is not so much a distinct type of design as an illustration of the 
Dakotan philosophy with reference to the origin of the present style of 

2 Such an origin, or imputed origin, of design patterns is not foreign to modern 
experience. Our artists as well as designers not infrequently claim to have dreamed 
of a new pattern or combination of patterns, or even of an entire artistic composition. 


art. When an association is thus established between the patterns used 
and the culture heroine just referred to, the art acquires a certain vague 
symbolic background of mystic connotation. 

From what has been said already it is apparent that the symbolic mean 
ings of the designs are more diversified than the forms of the design 
patterns. The designs on the four pipe and tobacco" bags (Plate XVII) 
will serve to illustrate the varieties of symbolism. The large design in a 
represents feathers with tips ; the four horseshoe-shaped figures in quill 
work represent horse-tracks. The other designs in this specimen are 
given the usual pattern names. Design b represents the buffalo; the 
bar and quill work is the tail. The divisions of the beaded design are the 
head, hump, and hind quarter. The other figures are purely decorative. 
On specimen c the diamond area within the central rectangle represents 
a butte, the rectangle itself, the grass about it. The appendages to the 
rectangle are a tree or a 'forked' tree. In specimen d the centre of the 
design represents a hill, and the four appendages, trees around the hill. 
I think it will be clear from an examination of these four designs that to 
think of them or any parts of them as conventionalizations of realistic 
or quasi-realistic designs would be arguing in the face of all probability. 
The symbolic meanings are so patently artificial that they must be con 
ceived of as ex post facto, the geometrical patterns pre-existing and the 
symbolic meanings having been read into them. 

This conclusion will be supported by an examination of the designs 
on a woman's leggings (Plate XVIII). On specimen a the diamond- 
shaped centre of the large figure is made up of red, green, blue, and yel 
low triangles, and is said to represent the breast of a turtle; the green 
lines extending from the crosses represent the four directions. The large 
blue areas with the small white rectangles are forks of trees struck by 
hail-stones. The long stripe to the right of the figure with its sym 
metrical projections is declared to be purely decorative. The border or 
side figure in specimen 6 on the left is again interpreted as forks of 
trees and the four directions. It is interesting to compare the designs and 
interpretations on the two specimens. On specimen b the whole large 
design is taken to represent a battle. The diamond-shaped centre is 
the body of a man. The large triangles are the tents of the village in which 
the battle took place. The pronged figures represent wounds and blood, 
and the straight lines supporting them, the flight of arrows. The cross 
lines to the right are also said to represent arrows and lances. Clearly, the 
design on specimen b is very similar in general style to that on specimen 
a, but the symbolic meanings are entirely different. 



Similar designs, though differing in certain particulars, appear on 
parfleche paintings (Fig. 45). 8 

An example may finally be given of the symbolization of a more com- 

FIG. 45. PARFLECHE DESIGNS. (Wissler, op. cit.) 

plex event as illustrated by the design on a waistcoat on Plate XIX. 
The background is white, implying winter. The time of the month is in- 

5 The parfleche is a common and most useful accessory of Plains material cul 
ture. In construction it is nothing but a sheet of buffalo hide folded up into a 


dicated by the stage of the moon, and the colour of the moon, dark blue, 
signifies that the battle was fought at night. The triangular pictures of 
tents imply that an attack was made from the enemy's camp. The crosses 
on the white field represent the bodies of the fallen, a red cross mean 
ing a wounded warrior, a blue cross, a dead one. The small red rec 
tangles represent the number of hits that wound, the blue ones, of those 
that kill. The eagle feather attached to one of the crosses refers to the 
fact that the owner struck an enemy. At the horns of the moon are small 
crosses representing stars. 

Colours among these people have a general symbolic value, apart 
from geometrical form. In connexion with military matters the signifi 
cance is as follows: red means blood or wounds; blue or black, victory or 
enemies' camp; yellow, horse; white, snow or winter time; green, grass 
or summer. According to Wissler, the Sioux have a preference for blue. 
He also believes that blue pigment was not known to these Indians until 
the coming of the traders, whereupon it was promptly adopted and 
substituted for black. In earlier days when a war party gained a victory 
or killed enemies, they painted their bodies black; so when blue was 
substituted, it acquired the same meaning. In bead-work purple and 
green are sometimes used with the same significance. Yellow is the sym 
bol of the war-horse because of the fact that tawny or dun-coloured 
horses were highly prized. Green is, like blue, a new colour. It may be 
substituted for blue and yellow and generally refers to summer. It is also 
sometimes used to designate a chief. All of these colours, however, vary 
in significance in accordance with position. Red on a coat may mean 
that the owner was wounded; red on a weapon, that he wounded an 
enemy ; and the like. It is plain, at any rate, that the military symbolism 
differs radically from that associated with the other non-military objects 
previously examined. The designs used, however, are in many particu 
lars the same. This suggests once more that these designs or patterns 
represent a general characteristic of the area, whereas the symbolic mean- 
package somewhat like a modern envelope. The ends that have been turned over, 
and in some cases the narrow strips along the edges, are used for decoration. The 
parfleche was primarily used as a receptacle for dried food, especially pemrnican 
which consisted of dried ground buffalo meat with cherries, pits included, ground 
into it. Numbers of these were slacked in the lodge and brought eloquent evidence 
of the industry of the family, the women in particular. The impressiveness of the 
pile was, of course, enhanced by the painting on the parfleches, but the women were 
also wont to say that the designs on the outside preserved the contents. One gathers 
from the traditions that the first parfleches were not painted, but that the hair 
of the buffalo was carefully removed without marring the pigmented layer of the 
skin which was dark brown in colour. The designs were produced by scraping away 
portions of this layer, with the resulting effect of light and shade. 


ings differ according to tribes, nature of the object, position in the de 
sign, and even the sex of the person who reads in the meaning. 

Carving and Painting on the North Pacific Coast 

The principal technique of the natives of the Northwest Coast, in 
cluding the Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, Bella Coola, and Kwakiutl, is 
woodwork, the principal materials being red and yellow cedar. These 
natives live in relatively large houses built of boards placed vertically 
and with gable roofs, also of board. Their boats, used both for cere 
monial and for war purposes, reach enormous dimensions. They belong 
to the so-called dugout variety, a boat being fashioned out of a large tree 
trunk split in two longitudinally. There is no pottery here and no bas 
ketry, except in the extreme North among the Tlingit, who borrowed 
their basketry technique and the basis of their basketry art from their 
Athapascan neighbours, the Tahltan. For most of the purposes for which 
the Pueblos use pots and the Californians baskets, including that of cook 
ing, the Northwest Indians employ boxes. A box of this sort consists of 
three principal elements, the sides, the bottom, and the top or cover. All 
the four sides of a box are fashioned out of one board, which is bent 
over hot steam to form the three corners. At the fourth corner, where the 
two sides meet, they are sewed together by means of the so-called disap 
pearing stitch. Then the four sides are fitted over the bottom, which has 
an elevated section over which the sides of the box fit snugly, so that 
once this is accomplished, the sides and bottom form a solid unit, without 
the use of any such additional devices as pivots, sewing, or anything else. 
The cover of the box fits over the top of the sides in the same fashion, 
but less snugly. 

Wood is also used for making dishes of an endless variety of shapes 
and sizes, baby-carrying boards, spoons or ladles (also made of horn), 
a variety of ceremonial paraphernalia, such as masks and staffs, and 
various ritualistic adornments which are made out of the soft inner bark 
of the cedar. Wood is employed for the totem-poles and memorial col 
umns, some of which reach great size. Even the famous Chilkat blankets 
woven by the Tlingit women have a wooden component, the materials 
employed being mountain goat wool and the soft inner bark of the cedar. 
As secondary materials, bone, ivory, and horn are also employed by 
these Coast tribes. 

The wood technique of the Pacific Coast has become the basis of their 
very remarkable art which takes the form of carving, in low and high 
relief, applied to totem-poles, memorial columns, boxes, dishes, and 
ladles, and of painting, also applied to boxes as well as to the walls of 


houses and the sides of canoes. The decorative patterns on the Chilkat 
blankets, although made by women and more highly conventionalized 
than any of the other forms of Northwest art, must also be included in 
the general range of wood-inspired art, in so far as a woman executes the 
woven design after a pattern painted on a board by a man (see Fig. 46) , 
just as our ladies embroider and knit after blue-print patterns, or used to. 

FIG. 46. PATTERN-BOARD FOR CHILKAT BLANKET. (Emmons, The Chilkat Blanket 
Drawn by Miss Harriette Akin.) 

This Northwest art is in a sense realistic, in so far as it deals with ani 
mals, birds, sea creatures, and the human figure, all of which are recog 
nizable in their artistic versions; but in the character of its execution the 
art is conventional, to a greater or lesser extent. The carving on the 
totem-poles and memorial columns is, on the whole, the most realistic, 
whereas that on the boxes is often highly conventionalized, the extreme 
of conventionalization, as just stated, being reached in the woven designs 
of the Chilkat blankets. 

Passing now to the art of carving and painting itself, let me note at the 
outset that the external inspiration for this art is provided by animals 
and birds whose representations in art are used as the so-called 'crests,' 
an object thus adorned becoming of great emotional value to the people 
and articulating with their social and ceremonial organization and their 
religious and mythological concepts. When thus represented in artistic 
design, the different parts of an animal or bird are not equally sig 
nificant. Certain features are selected for emphasis and become symbolic 
of that particular animal. The little figure (Fig. 47), for example, which 



is taken from the model of a totem-pole, represents a beaver. A first view 
of the face might suggest a human counte 
nance, but the fact that the ears are on top 
rather than at the sides characterizes it as that 
of an animal. The two large incisors protrud 
ing from the mouth stamp the animal as a 
rodent, namely a heaver; the tail is turned 
up in front between the two hind legs, and 
on it there is a cross-hatching which repre 
sents the scales on the beaver's tail. This is 
another symbol of the beaver. In its fore paws 
the animal holds a stick. The nose is short and 
FIG. 47. CARVINGS REP- forms a sharp angle with the forehead; the 

tern Poles Carved in Slate, ized spirals. Of these various features asso- 
(Boas, Primitive Art.} ciated with the beaver, the large incisors, the 
cross-hatched tail, the stick, and the form of the nose are the most im 
portant. They may all appear on a particular carving or they may not. 
The presence of the incisors, for example, or of the cross-hatched tail, 
is in itself sufficient to identify the carving as that of a 
beaver. Thus in Fig. 48 the representation is very similar 
indeed, not so much in the proportions as in mode and 
details of the treatment. Here, however, the stick is ab 
sent. In Fig. 49, which is a spoon, all the teeth are omitted 
except an upper pair of incisors; the nose is also differ 
ent, in so far as the spirals are omitted. The scaly tail 
is here too, only it appears on the back of the spoon. In 
Fig. 50, which is a painting from a Kwakiutl house- 
front, the body of the beaver has vanished, but the paint 
ing can be readily identified as that of a beaver : the in 
cisors are there, the scaly tail appears under the mouth, 
the scales in this case being represented more realisti 
cally; the broken lines around the eyes indicate the 
hair of the beaver, another moderate touch of realism. 
The nostrils are large and round, even though they lack 
the other features mentioned before. The two clawed fig- 

ures under the corners of the mouth are the feet. 

i t i T i r i 7 . r 7-1 

Similarly, the symbols of the sculpm are ims and tail, 

which are common to it and other fish, while the specific symbols of 

the sculpin are two spines rising over the mouth and a joint dorsal fin. 

The symbol of a hawk is a large beak, hooked and curved backward 

FIG. 48. CARV- 

(Boas, op. cit.) 



so that its slender point touches the chin or the mouth. The face here, as 
in many other such cases, may be altogether human, except for that 
unmistakable beak which identifies it as belonging to a hawk. In Fig. 51, 
for example, the head is that of a hawk with the usual 
beak. At the top of the figure is a man with a head 
very much like the hawk's below, except for the 
beak. The man is holding an animal which may be 
a dragon-fly. The symbol of the killer-whale, espe 
cially as represented by the Haida, is a long dorsal 
fin which may either be plain or have a white si ripe 
or circle painted on it. The head is elongated, the 
mouth long and square in front. The nostrils arc 
large, high, and also elongated. When represented 
on a totem-pole or a spoon, the head is always so 
placed that the long snout points downward. Fig. 52 
represents killer-whales, whose symbols can be easily 

The bear i symbolized by a large mouth set with 
many teeth, often in the act of swallowing some ani 
mal or human. The tongue protrudes, as a rule; the 
nostrils are high and round and sometimes are repre 
sented by spirals; the paws of the bear are large and 
are usually provided with very long claws. 
The most distinctive characteristics of the shark are a large mouth 
filled with numerous, often triangular, teeth and a high decoration over 
the forehead on which two or three curved lines, in the form of crescents, 
can usually be found. 

The symbols of the different animals may be brought together in the 
following enumeration, as given by Boas. 4 Beaver large incisors, large 

4 Boas, Primitive Art, p. 202. This sketch of Northwest art is based on Boas's 
study. I might add to this that the sketch of Northwest Coast art in Boas's book 
is a revised version of his essay, 'The Decorative Art of the Indians of the North 
Pacific Coast of America' (Bulletin, American Museum of Natural History, vol. 
XXIX, pp. 123-176), which appeared some forty years ago. In this detailed and 
highly analytical investigation Boas succeeded in unravelling what up to then had 
appeared as the mystery of Northwest art. He pointed out, in particular, that an 
animal or bird, as represented in this art, is often conceived as dissected, the different 
parts of the creature thus acquiring relative freedom of movement, limited, however, 
by the fact that their natural spatial relations in the animal's body must be, to a 
degree, preserved. The conventionalization of the different bodily parts, thus 
divided, henceforth proceeded separately for each part. Ultimately this led, as 
in the case of the Chilkat blanket, to a practically complete formalizing of the 
pattern, in which the animal form could no longer be identified, or only barely so. 
In such extreme instances a 'reading' of the design meant little more than knowing 
what the artist had intended. 

GIT. (Boas, op. cit.) 


KWAKIUTL. (Boas, op. cit.) 


round nose, scaly tail, 
stick in the fore paws. 
Sculp in two spines ly 
ing over the mouth and 
a continuous dorsal fin. 
Hawk large curved beak 
with the point turned 
backward and touching 
the face. Eagle large 
curved beak with the 
point turned downward. 
Killer-whale large long 
head, large elongated 
nostrils, round eyes, large 
mouth set with teeth, 
blow-hole, and most im 
portant of all, large dor 
sal fin. Shark or dog-fish 
an elongated rounded 
cone rising over the fore 
head, with two or three 
curved lines representing 

circles representing nostrils and several 
wrinkles, mouth with depressed corners, curving lines on the cheeks, set 
of gills, round eyes, numerous sharp teeth, and pe- . 
culiar tail. Bear large paws with long claws, large 
mouth set with teeth, protruding tongue (frequently) , 
large round nose, sudden turn from snout to fore 
head. The sea-monster, dragon-fly, frog, and snail 
also have their symbolic parts and typical forms of 

Being equipped with the knowledge of the symbols, 
let us now apply it to the deciphering of the three 
totem-pole models (Plate VII). 

On pole a three creatures are represented. The top 
one is the bear with its animal ears on top of the 

head and the huge claws. It is devouring a human 

,,,,..,... i / . iT . T FIG. 51. LOWER 

figure, hall-hidden in its mouth (an indication, by FIGURE, HAWK ; UP- 

the way, that a slave was buried alive under this PER FIGURE, MAN 

house-post when it was erected). The large project- j^ p ^^v 

ing cylinder with its five segments on top of the XSIMSHIAN. (Boas, 

bear's head, indicates five potlatches given by the op. cit.) 



owners of the pole. Under the bear is the shark with the usual three 
crescents on top of the forehead, and also a labret in the lower lip 

which means that the shark in this case 
represents a woman. Below the shark is 
the raven with its beak. The belly of the 
raven is used for a 'filler face,' a face 
that is, without any particular signifi 
cation, but used as an element in the 
design (or carving) to c fill in' an other 
wise unoccupied space. 5 Another such 
face appears in the lower part of the 
body of the shark, between the ears of 
the raven. 

On pole b the top figure represents 
an eagle, with the typical beak, point 
straight, and the breast fealhers, par 
tially realistic. The second figure is a 
bear, with long claws on all four paws; 

_ rrt _, TT he is holding a column of five (or 

FIG. 52. CARVINGS FROM HANDLES < x ^ . , -, . i r , r 

OF SPOONS OF MOUNTAIN-GOAT S1X > Ptlatch disks. The lowest figure 
HORN REPRESENTING KILLER- is a beaver, with four incisors, the 
WHALES, TLINGIT. (Boas, op. cit.) roun d nostrils, the stick in the fore- 
paws, and the cross-hatched tail, with a 'filler face.' 

The totem-pole c carries the carving of three creatures. On the top is 

the shark with its large mouth and triangular teeth, gills on the side of 

the face, and three crescent-like shapes on 

the upward projection of the forehead. It 

will be noticed that these symbols of the 

shark could not have been properly placed 

had the animal been represented in its nat 
ural position then, of course, they would 

have been buried within the pole. So the 

face has been brought onto the top of the 

animal's head and appears on the pole in 

greatly exaggerated dimensions. Below the 

shark is the raven with its huge beak and 

the conventional wings at the sides. Below 

it is the killer-whale. It may be conceived 

as lying on its back, split in two along the 

TSIMSHIAN. (Boas, op. cit.) 

* Such fillers an eye-design, a whole face, a geometrical shape of some sort 
are constantly used in Northwest specimens, apparently in conformity with the 



(Boas, op. cit.) 

belly, the head leaning far forward over the body, so as to appear on 
the pole. There is here the long snout, the dorsal fin split in two and 
provided with a white circle, the two parts of 
the fin appearing on the two sides of the pole, 
and the typical bifurcated tail of the species, 
which is bent over so as to cover the belly of 
the killer and incidentally fill the space be 
tween the mouth and the bottom of the pole. 
Into the large lateral spaces left by the tail 
the two parts of the dorsal fin are fitted. And 
then, the last touch! The tail itself, if repre 
sented without additions, would leave a con 
siderable part of the bottom of the pole un- 
decorated; so a face is carved on the top of 
the tail: it is merely a 'filler face.' 

It must be remembered that these symbolic 
parts of animals appear when the whole animal is represented, but they 
may also be used when the animal form has become reduced or even 
disappears altogether. The efforts made to adjust the representation of 
the animal to the shape of the object can be illustrated by a number 
of specimens. In Fig. 53, representing a wooden dancing hat, the body 

of the killer-whale is 
gone, therefore the essen 
tial dorsal fin appears on 
the top of the head, 
whereas the flippers are 
attached to the head, as 
if they were ears project- 

FIG. 55. GREASE-DISH: REPRESENTING SEAL. ing backwards. On the 

(Boas, op. cit.) wooden hat in Fig. 54 the 

animal, in this case a sculpin, is envisaged as split from the back. The 
two halves thus formed extend along the rim of the hat, the two sides of 
the mouth appear in front, the fin, split in two, appears on the two sides 
of the hat, and the typical tail of the species, on the side opposite of 

principle of leaving as little space undecorated as possible. This principle is not 
uniformly observed in their art, but it is nevertheless conspicuous in its operation 
and frequently leads to curious combinations of design. It has also been responsible 
for a common misrepresentation, especially of totem-poles. On these a number of 
faces -will often be seen, in addition to those of the animals represented on the pole. 
Early observers, erroneously regarding all faces as equivalent, were led to conceive 
of the totem-pole as a family tree, a sort of collection of ancestral portraits. The 
pole, of course, is no such thing. 


the head. In Fig. 55, a grease dish representing a seal, the animal has 
been similarly split. Its different parts can be readily recognized. On the 
bracelet in Fig. 56, representing a bear, the animal is split in two al 
together, except in the region of the nose, the two sides of the animal ex 
tending laterally to the left and right of the nose. The enormous mouth 
really consists of two profiles of the natural mouth, as seen from the 
right and left sides. In this specimen, it will be seen, the different parts 
of the animal are represented in a decidedly conventionalized form. 

NASS RIVER INDIANS. (Boas, op. cit.) 

On the Haida painting, Fig. 57, representing the bear, the division of 
the animal into two parts appears even more conspicuously, the enormous 
mouth appearing in the centre of the design with the nose perched on the 
top, whereas the remnants of the two sides of the animal appear as two 
emaciated-looking creatures facing each other. A similar representation 
of the bear will be seen on the house-front in Fig. 58, and another one 
representing the sculpin, on the wooden hat of Fig. 59, or on the paint 
ing in Fig. 60, representing a dog-fish. In the slate carving, Fig. 61, repre 
senting the sea monster, the squeezing of a design into a given shape 
becomes especially conspicuous. It will be seen that the dorsal fin here 
is placed downward so as to conform to the vertical line of the slab. The 
tail is turned upward to fit into the allowed space, and the long snout is 
curved upward too, to fit within the range marked by the horizontal line 
at the top of the slate. In Fig. 62, representing a killer-whale in con 
siderably conventionalized detail, the animal is provided with two dorsal 
fins. The body of the killer-whale is bent around the rim of the dish, so 
that the tail touches the mouth. The two dorsal fins are laid flat along the 
back, whereas the flipper occupies the centre of the dish. 

When these carvings are compared with the Tlingit carved box repre 
sented in Fig. 63, it will be observed that the reduction of the body here 
has proceeded very far. In this case the eye-designs and the adjoining 
curves on the upper margin are 'fillers.' 

The representations on the four sides of carved trays in Fig, 64 show 
how far the conventionalization of the different parts of an animal can 
go even in carvings. 



op. cit.) 

BEAR, TSIMSHIAN. (Boas, op. 

PIN, HAIDA. (Boas, op. cit.) 

(Boas, op. cit.) 

(Boas, op, cit.) 

(Boas, op. cit.) 



It will carry us too far to attempt to also analyze the Chilkat blanket. 
From the two specimens here reproduced (see Fig. 65), a good idea can 
be derived both of the decorative effect here achieved and of the extreme 

Fie. 63. CARVED Box, TLINCIT. (Boas, op. cit.) 

conventionalization of the animal design. In cases such as this even ex 
perts will vary in their interpretations of a design. (See also Fig 66.) 

In concluding this descriptive sketch, which does not begin to exhaust 
the wealth of the material available for analysis, I want to draw atten 
tion to the carved figure from British Columbia (Plate XXIV), the 
Tlingit helmet and mask (Figs. 67 and 68), and the Haida carving of a 
woman nursing a child (Plate XXV), as illustrations of the realism 


which these native artists can attain when they so desire. In the carved 
figure, Northwest style could only be recognized in the eyebrows and 
the figures on the cheeks. The representation of the face, hair, and long 
garment reveals great skill in realism. What the carver has succeeded in 
conveying is the sense of body under the garment. Figs. 67 and 68 are 
studies in facial expression. In Fig. 67, the head of an old man affected 
with partial paralysis is represented. The treatment here is so naturalis- 

FIG. 64. CARVED TRAYS. (Boas, op. cit.) 

tic as to lead Boas to regard this specimen as a portrait head. The blank 
stare of the eyes, the lateral dislocation of the nose and mouth, the con 
torted wrinkles on the right cheek, all tell the story unmistakably. 
Fig. 68 represents a dying warrior. Here we see the relaxed muscles of 
mouth and tongue, the drooping eyelids, the motionless eyeballs; the 
mask almost seems to be dying under one's very eyes. In these two 
specimens the artist also portrays, with some exaggeration, the typical 
so-called pentagonal face of the Indian, a configuration brought about 
by the great lateral expanse of the upper and especially the lower cheek 
bones. The Haida slate-carving (Plate XXV) is a realistic master 
piece. The baby clasping his mother's breast is really a bear, as revealed 
by the enormous paw-hands with long claws partially imbedded in the 
woman's breast. The woman is in agony, her head is thrown back, eyes 



FIG. 65. CHILKAT BLANKETS. (Boas, op. cit.) 

FIG. 66. HAIDA PAINTINGS. (Swanton, The Haida.) 

These paintings are very typical of Northwest art. At first a, 6, and c look very 
similar. In fact, a and 6 are birds, whereas c is a mosquito, as revealed by the 
curled up proboscis (p) and an extra leg (/). Observe also the faces -within the 
eyes (/*, f' 2 , / a ) and the less complete ones in the eye designs at base of tails. 



(Boas, op. cit.) 

WARRIOR. (Boas, op. cit.) 

are half closed, pain and muscular tension pervade the whole figure. 6 

6 We know, of course, that the art of certain peoples and periods was distin 
guished by its realism: the art of the Palaeolithic cave-dwellers o Europe, that of 
the African Bushmen, that of Renaissance Netheilands. In other words, realism is 
itself a style and a convention. But this apart, it must be understood that realistic 
or naturalistic representation requires certain specific features in the artist's 
equipment: he must be able to *see' and to portray so as to convey the 'truth' 
(about the 'reality' portrayed) and carry conviction. Not everyone can do this, 
whatever the style or convention. It could probably be shown, if the data were 
available, that among primitives, where art, as we know, is an accomplishment of 
the many, there is more difference between the best and the less good when the 
art is realistic than when it is geometrical, or at least, that fewer individuals are 
capable of producing the best. 

Chapter XIII 


Pueblo Pottery 

Before we pass to an examination of Pueblo pottery, a few words are 
due the general culture of these peoples. The Pueblos certainly possessed 
one of the highest cultures, if not the highest culture, of all the American 
Indians north of Mexico, especially material culture. This is In part 
accounted for by the cultural relationships and contacts with the Aztecs 
of Mexico. At any rate, we find in these two areas marked parallelisms, 
not only in language but also in the utilization of stone for buildings 
(in Zuni mostly adobe, in Hopi, stone) , the prevalence of agriculture, 
the high development of pottery, a complex cosmogony connected with 
an elaborate ceremonialism. In contrast to most other North Ameri 
can tribes, the people of the Pueblos were specialists in more than one 
form of craft and art. We find here not only the best-made pottery in 
North America, but also excellent baskets and weaving. Even though 
hunting, as usual, played its part in the domestic economy, agriculture 
constituted the essential material base of life, with the additional feature 
that men, not women, were the agricultural labourers; women, on the 
other hand, were the pottery makers. Agricultural technique was char 
acterized by the presence of a system of irrigation, essential in this arid 
region. 1 

1 Some authors make much of the physical environment of the Southwest in 
trying to account lor the peculiarities of this culture. 'Certain physical surround 
ings,' says Goddard in his Indians of the Southwest (p, IS), 'also in a large measure 
influence art, religion, and man's conception of the universe as a whole. In the 
Southwest is an atmosphere wonderfully clear through which one sees with great, 
distinctness the sculptured mountain peaks and ridges and the variously coloured 
flat-topped terraced mesas. The violent storms with terrifying thunder and fre 
quent rainhows which mark the seasonal rains; the mirage, the shimmer and the 
whirl-winds of the dry season have produced results which we find reflected in 
songs, formulated prayers, and pictorial art. Only in the Southwest; do the gods 
travel with rainbows and lightning and wrap themselves in clouds tied with sun 
beams. So pronounced are these features that one feels, from whatever unknown 
source came the people themselves with their language and original customs, that 
many features of their arts, their mythology, and their religion could only have 



In this discussion of Pueblo pottery, as technique and as art, I shall 
follow in the main the careful and discerning study of Ruth L Bunzel, 
The Pueblo Potter, which carries the significant subtitle, A Study of 
Creative Imagination in Primitive Art. Miss Bunzel's book comprises an 
examination of the pottery of four Pueblos: Zuni, Acoma, San Ildefonso, 
and Hopi. 

Among the Zuni the clay for the pottery is secured from a rather dis 
tant place on the top of Corn Mountain, where a dark grey shale abounds. 
The access to this spot is difficult, and so a journey for pottery clay be 
comes quite an expedition accompanied by religious rites. When the 
clay has been secured it must be crumbled, cleaned, and spread out for a 
couple of days, before it can be used. Pulverized potsherds are used for 
tempering. Fragments of broken household pots or sherds lying about 
the ruins are ground to fine powder on a metate or grinding stone, and 
mixed with the fresh clay. In mixing the paste, comments Miss Bunzel, 
the natives are guided by their tactile sense of the proper proportions, 
developed by experience; they are quite unconscious of what these pro 
portions are in numerical terms. 2 

The texture of the clay used in the Pueblos included in Miss Bunzel's 
study differs as between one Pueblo and the others. She found that the 
Acoma ware was the best. The paste here is light in colour and very 
hard, and the texture is fine. The surfaces are very smooth and the walls 
almost as thin as an eggshell. In spite of this slightness of build, the ves 
sels are strong and water-tight. Zuni pottery, while good enough for 
practical purposes, is heavy and coarse. The walls of the vessels are thick, 

arisen and could only continue to exist in the Southwest.' Like other such inter 
pretations of culture, this one should not be taken too seriously. But it must also 
be admitted that the fitness of the culture to the environment is apparent enough. 

- One woman in Acoma, we are told, gives the following recipe : two cups of 
tempering to each cup of clay. This recipe, comments the author, seems impossible. 
The same applies to the process of mixing the clay with water, the next stage in 
the proceedings. Here also there is no sense of any quantitative relation between 
liquid and solid parts. It would in fact be practically impossible to arrive at such 
a ratio, we are told, for it would depend upon the rapidity with which the clay 
is worked, the aridity of the climate requiring a constant compensation for evapora 
tion. This kneading is a difficult task; cleaning is continued while the clay is be 
ing mixed, the gritty particles being removed as the soft paste passes through the 

This factor in the technique, namely an effective procedure combined with 
unconsciousness of the particulars, to which the author draws attention, has an 
important general bearing on the psychology of craft (compare p. 411). In a situa 
tion such as this the material and its moulder are almost equivalent factors in an 
interacting whole. Granting the aim of the worker, which of course is to produce 
a fit clay, the rest is a matter of mechanical pressure by the paste on the fingers 
and by these on the clay. In this mechanical complex the fingers play almost as 
automatic a part as does the clay. 


though not as thick as those of the Hopi. The surfaces of the ware, when 
not slipped, are rough. Also, the vessels are inconveniently heavy. The 
paste here is dark brownish. The ware of San Ildefonso is also heavy. In 
texture it is smoother than the Zuni and is hard and strong; it is, however, 
not water-tight: as soon as the vessel is filled with water, the beautiful 
black surface becomes dull and streaked, a fault that cannot be remedied. 
Hopi ware is even worse the walls are thick, the paste soft and coarse. 
It is rendered smooth by polishing but becomes scratched and flaked. 
The fragile vessels often crumble when first filled with water. The author 
found that these types of ware, as technique, are definitely localized and 
constant within each group at any given time, although as time passes, 
changes come about. 

The next problem is the moulding of the vessel described by Miss 
Bunzel, in substance, as follows. First a lump of clay is worked with 
the hands. By hollowing this out or pressing it flat, a cup- or disk-shaped 
base is formed, which is then placed in a low mould, made either of the 
bottom of a broken pot or of a saucer or pie tin filled with clay and 
sprinkled with sand. Carefully, the base is pressed into the mould, then 
rounds of clay are added to build up the walk. The clay is rolled between 
the hands or on the floor into thin long strips, about an inch in diameter, 
and from two to three feet long, which are added to the top of the vessel. 
The strips are always placed inside the finished wall and pressed into 
place with the fingers. In rolling and joining care must be exercised not 
to permit air spaces to remain, for this would cause the vessel to break 
during the firing. In making small vessels the shaping is begun after the 
walls have been built up to the full height, except for the neck; in larger 
vessels, preliminary shaping accompanies the building. All shaping is 
done from the interior, except when the outer surface is being smoothed. 
The only tools used are fragments of gourd shell, pieces of different 
curvature being used for shaping the different parts of the vessel. When a 
Zuni vessel, usually a large water jar, is built up to a point somewhat 
below the shoulder, it is set aside for a few hours to become firm enough 
to support the upper walls. During this time the upper edge must be kept 
constantly wet. An important additional point is that the lower part of the 
vessel is set in its final form before the upper part is moulded. As no 
corrections are possible after the half-finished vessel has been set aside 
and dried, it is evident that the entire form must be clearly visualized 
before this occurs. And here again, as in the case of clay mixing, the 
final form is not a matter of trial and error, 'adding a little there and 
taking off something here'; on the contrary: 'the operator is guided by a 


very definite sense of proportion, no less rigorous because it is un 
conscious.' 3 

When the pot has been given the desired form it is still far from ready. 
There remains the laborious process of preliminary finishing, slipping, 
and polishing. When the vessel is thoroughly dried, the rough finishing 
begins. The whole surface is moistened and scraped, inside and out; all 
roughness is worn down, the ridge formed at the top of the mould is 
eliminated, the walls are further thinned, and the rim is made smooth 
and regular. The tool employed in this process is a plain knife, the top 
of a baking powder tin, or a rough stone. At Zuni, this rough finishing 
is done very hurriedly and carelessly, with the result that the j ars show 
many irregularities of surface. At other places the same technique is used 
with much greater care. If any imperfections of structure are noted at 
this stage in the proceedings, such as cracks, air bubbles, or pieces of 
gritty material imbedded in the clay, which would cause the pot to break 
during the firing, the vessel is destroyed and the same clay used for an 
other vessel. 

The next process is the application of the slip, which is a thin solution 
of very fine clay containing no tempering. With a smooth cloth it is evenly 
applied to the surface of the vessel. Three or four coatings are the rule. 
The colour of the slip varies with the Pueblos. At Zuni, Acoma, and 
Laguna it is chalky white. The bases of the pots remain unslipped at 
Zuni, whereas at Laguna and Acoma they are slipped with bright orange- 
red. At Hopi the slipping is done with the same clay that forms the paste 
for the pot. This clay, which is a clear light grey before firing, turns yel 
low during the process, shading from pale ivory to a deep buff tinged 
with rose. A bright red slip is used at San Ildefonso. If the fire is smoth 
ered at the right moment, the slip turns to a deep lustrous black. 

The last process is polishing, which is begun while the last coating or 
slip is still damp. The surface is rubbed lightly with a very smooth stone. 

8 Impressed by the similarity of proportions in a number of San Ildefonso vases, 
a similarity so great 'that they might almost have been cast from the same mould,' 
Miss Bunzel drew the potter's attention to one relation, namely that of the base 
to the neck, which is almost invariably 2:3, whereupon the pot-makers agreed that 
they had never thought of this before. Here as before, then, these crafts-women did 
not think of form in terms of numerical relations nor were they guided by the 
number or size of the strips of clay used. When pressed for some guiding principle, 
all the potters 'without exception' stated: 'It must be even all around, not larger on 
one side than another, the neck must not be too long; the mouth must not be too 
small." Though not numerically cognizant of the problem of form, the native pot 
ters are nevertheless highly sensitive to it, as shown in the uniformity of vessels 
in any one village, as well as in the very critical attitude shown by the women 


This use of the polishing stone requires great skill; to obtain a high 
polish without scratching or pebbling the surface, the pressure must be 
just right. At San Ildefonso, where the polish is the chief source of 
ornament, it is done with even greater care than in other places. After a 
high polish has been secured with the stone, the surface is further rubbed 
with a greasy rag. All this requires meticulous care. If a single scratch 
or irregularity is observed, a fresh coating of clay is applied and the 
whole process is repeated. 

Now the pot as such is finished, but it is still no more than a base for 
the design, to an examination of which we shall now proceed. 

As between Pueblo and Pueblo, there is much difference in form, de 
sign, and the relation of the former to the latter. Among the Zuni there 
is a definite break structurally between the foot and body of the pot, and 
then again between the body and the neck. These three parts are treated 
separately, not merely as to form but also in the decoration applied. This 
formal separation in the three structural parts scarcely ever occurs in 
the three other regions, while in the Acoma pots the decorator com 
pletely disregards them, the entire surface being treated as a unit. Among 
the Zuni a definite line must be drawn between sacred and secular decora 
tion. 'The cleavage between household and ceremonial objects in regard 
to form and decoration is so complete,' writes the author, 'that it is diffi 
cult to believe that two such different ceramic types belong to the same 
age and the same people.' 4 In the sacred bowls, apart from differences 
in form, the decoration inside and out consists of any or all of the follow 
ing designs: serpent, frog, tadpole, and dragon-fly. These designs are 
applied without any regard for decorative style. They are painted directly 
on the white background without any reference to one another. The re 
quirements of a carefully integrated structure, such as is always found in 
the household pottery, are disregarded here. The workmanship of these 
sacred paintings, moreover, is crude and hasty, from which, as the author 
correctly notes, it may be inferred that the purpose of the artist here is 
to depict rather than to adorn, and that the development of these patterns 
was not guided by aesthetic standards, or only slightly so. 5 

towards any deviation from accepted form. Tor them all problems of form of 
which they are conscious are semi-technical, the attainment of perfection within 
imposed limits. The creative process itself lies deeper than consciousness.' (Ruth L. 
Bimzel, The Pueblo Potter, p. 11; compare below, p. 199.) 

* Ibid., p. 23. 

5 This characteristic of religious art is not confined to the Pueblos but may be 
regarded as a general feature of such art in many different places, as Boas has 
long ago pointed out. He says *. . , we find a considerahle number of caaes which 
demonstrate the fact that the decoration of ceremonial objects is much more 
realistic than that of ordinary objects. Thus we find the garments for ceremonial 

Of the secular designs only two approach the realism of these cere 
monial patterns; these are the deer and the bird. The deer design, evi 
dently taken over from the religious art, becomes stylized in the secular 
ware through the addition of graceful scrollwork, by which it is always 
surrounded, thus transforming it into a pattern rather than a picture. The 
birds also show the influence of style ; the conventional effect is enhanced 
by the fact that this design is always used within narrow, clearly defined 
borders. The butterfly and dragon-fly patterns, when used on secular 
ware, are highly stylized and so is the medallion, which is referred to as 
sunflower, the one plant-form used. 

The decorative scheme of the secular pots of the Zufii rests on a con 
siderable number of geometrical pattern units. Of these the author lists 
and reproduces some 200 which she succeeded in securing from an 
exceptionally gifted woman informant. These unit designs are combined 
into more complicated patterns which vary somewhat as between pot and 
pot, although considerable likeness between one pot and another is also 
frequent. In the Acoma pots, on the other hand, as we saw, the pot is 
treated as a unit: the whole surface is covered with a design. Here there 
is scarcely anything corresponding to a background, by contrast with 
the Zuni, among whom a background is deemed essential. Although a 
sophisticated modem student could readily enough resolve the Acoma 
designs into a number of pattern units, if not as many as among the Zufii, 
these units are not distinguished by the Acoma themselves. In the San 
Idlefonso ware, finally, the main element is the perfection of finish. Here 
it is felt that the ornament is valuable mainly in so far as it brings out the 
deep lustre of the polish. While the Acoma are great colourists, the Zuiai 
and Hopi women regard the line of their design as more important than 
the colour. When these latter women speak of their efforts to reconstruct 

dances of the Arapaho covered with pictographic representations of animals, the 
sacred pipe covered with human and other forms, while the painted blankets for 
ordinary wear are generally adorned with geometric designs. Among the Thomp 
son River Indians ceremonial blankets are also covered with pictographic designs, 
while ordinary wearing apparel and basketry are decorated with simple geometrical 
motifs. On the stem of a shaman's pipe we find a series of pictographs while an 
ordinary pipe shows geometric forms. Even among the Eastern Eskimo, whose 
decorative art, on the whole, is very rudimentary, a shamanistic coat has been 
found which has a number of realistic motifs, while the ordinary dress of the same 
tribe shows no trace of such decoration.' (Boas, 'Decorative Art of North American 
Indians,' Popular Science Monthly, vol. LXII1, 1903.) 

In addition to the relatively unaesthetic character of decoration in religious art it 
is also characterized by unusual conservatism. The normal and universal tendency 
of patterns to become standardized and to resist further change is here enhanced 
by the halo of sanctity which everywhere rests on ceremonial objects. Here change 
is not only undesirable but sacrilegious; therefore, it will, by and large, not occur. 


the ancient designs from diminutive potsherds, they refer to this as 'get 
ting the line of the design.' Instead of the Zuiii clarity of conception, 
emphasis on structural lines, and recognition of the decorative value of 
white spaces, the author finds among the Acoma what she calls 'an almost 
Gothic exuberance of ornament, filling without break the whole surface 
of the jar from rim to base.' Another contrast betwen the Acoma and the 
Zuiii is that, whereas the latter, as we saw, emphasize line, the Acoma are 
more concerned with the treatment of surfaces which paves the way for 
an exuberant use of colour. 'We have three kinds of designs,' said an 
Acoma informant to the author, 'the red, the black, and the striped de 
signs.' 6 

Although the principles of decoration are thus seen to be as definitely 
fixed in the mind of these natives as those of form, and are also seen to 
vary as between Pueblo and Pueblo, the women are no more conscious 
of these principles than they are of those underlying form. At the same 
time these primitive artists seem to be agreed that the design is a thing 
more significant as well as more difficult than the mere form. 'Anyone 
can make a good shape,' they say, 'but you have to use your head in 
putting on the design.' 'I have the whole design in my head before I start 
to paint,' says one Hopi woman, and another adds, 'Whenever I am ready 
to paint I just close my eyes and see the design, and then I paint it.' 

Even though the relative uniformity of designs in each district might 
make the impression of routine, they are not conceived as such by the 
pot-makers themselves, who dream these designs (as, it will be remem 
bered, the Plains women also do), see them before them, think of them 
even when doing other things, object to copying, avoid making the same 
design twice. 'We paint our thoughts,' they say. 

The relative uniformity of these art products, then, when looked at 
in the light of modern standards, does not prevent the native potter from 
regarding her task as that of a creative artist. 'Even at Zuni,' says the au 
thor, 'where the inventive faculty is at low ebb and where choice of design 
is narrowly circumscribed by prevailing taste, in spite of all this, each 
pot is approached as a new creation, the decoration of which is evolved 
only after much thought and inner communing. However much theory 
and practice may be at variance, there can be no doubt concerning the 
theory. And strangely enough, it is at Zuni where the ideal is stated with 
the deepest conviction that it is most frequently violated.' 

6 From this standpoint the contrast between the Zufii, on the one hand and the 
Acoma, on the other, is like that between the painters of Florence and those of 
Venice in the Renaissance, where the former were the master draughtsmen 
whereas the latter specialized in colour. 


This conflict between ideal and practice comes out in other connexions. 
A woman will apply three design units to a pot, will do so again and 
again. Yet when asked how many units she prefers, she will answer, 
Tour.' Again, the women will use certain particular rim designs in 
association with certain body designs. The choice here is unfailing, but 
the potter is not aware of making it. When her attention is drawn to the 
fact she will say: 'Yes, that is right; we always do it that way, but I 
never thought about it before.' 'As a matter of fact,' remarks the author 
sagely, 'however much she may rationalize, she has probably never 
thought about the design, its structure, or its elements, at all. She has 
experienced it unanalytically as a configuration, just as she has experi 
enced the forms of her vessels. The design is a constellation of which the 
essential part is a relationship. The various elements may later be ab 
stracted, as words may be isolated from the sentences of a nai've speaker, 
who for many years has been correctly speaking his native tongue, though 
innocent of the simplest rules of grammar. In art, as in language, it is not 
difficult to bring into consciousness these unexpressed feelings for formal 
relationships. . . . Here as elsewhere, sensation and intuition play a 
larger role than intellect in the creation of design.' 7 

Without being able to make her conclusion wholly convincing, the 
author believes that some elements inherent in a decorative style may 
encourage or inhibit originality. Thus at Zuni, where the style is very uni 
form, individual differences appear mainly in technique. With increased 
variability of design, the way is open for the creation of individual pat 
terns or even styles by gifted persons. The author finds that individual 
originality has reached its peak at San Ildefonso, where Maria Martinez 
and her brother, Julian, execute such strikingly individual work and 
where pots almost equally original are made by Bonita Cruz and her 
husband, Juan. In Acoma too the author discovered two potters whose 
work could be identified with certainty, one specializing in archaic forms, 
while the other preferred highly complex modern pieces. At Hopi also 
some creative spirits were to be found, of whom Nampeyo, the author's 
star informant, was one. 

Miss Bunzel is full of admiration for the artistry of Julian mentioned 
above. She found his pots to have the simplest designs at San Ildefonso. 
Sometimes these merely consist of a row of scallops or dots around the 
rim of a large bowl; but the execution approaches technical perfec 
tion. 'He needs no pattern book,' we are told, 'no poring over the 
archaeologist's tray of sherds. He has created a style in which he can 
operate blindly, feeling his way like a cat in the dark.' 

7 Bunzel, op. cit., p. 53. 


This man Julian and his sister, Maria, were responsible for the artistic 
revival in San Ildef onso. 

While at work at the Santa Fe Museum and at archaeological diggings, 
Julian became familiar with many kinds of pottery. From these he bor 
rowed designs and suggestions, subsequently to introduce them in his 
village. Hopi (Sikyatki) designs enjoyed his special favour. Then, in 
1921, a new factor entered the situation. In that year Maria Martinez in 
vented a process by which designs in dull black paint could be applied to 
the polished black surface which had long been a favourite at San Ilde- 
fonso. The new ware took the first prize at the Santa Fe fair and was 
eagerly bought by traders and tourists. Presently other potters began 
to imitate it, and now it represents the principal ware of the Pueblo, hav 
ing displaced other types. This revolution in technique also had an effect 
on style, which became simpler in response to the demands of the new 
technique. What has happened here, I may add, may and must have hap 
pened in other places too, in America and elsewhere, if only the facts were 

Another artistic revival, so striking as to be called a re-creation, took 
place at Hopi. The heroine of this incident was Nampeyo, the wife of a 
Hano man who was one of the workers for Dr. Fewkes at the excavations 
he was conducting at Sikyatki in 1895. During her frequent visits to her 
husband, Nampeyo was struck by the character of the ancient designs on 
the pottery brought to light in the excavations. She began to imitate these 
designs in her own work, presently to be followed by other potters. When 
Miss Bunzel visited the First Mesa in 1924, she found that the new ware 
had completely displaced the other types. 8 

The Technique of Peruvian Weaving 

The Peruvians, of the Andean coast of South America, of whom we 
shall hear more as we proceed, were distinguished for weaving a variety 
of textiles, certainly superior to any others found in America and fully 
the equals of those of India. The principal materials they employed for 

8 This curious instance of a specially gifted native artist being inspired to new 
creativeness by the ancient art products of her ancestors can be paralleled by what 
happened at the dawn of the Italian Renaissance in the fourteenth and fifteenth 
centuries. With the fall of the repressions and constraints of the Middle Ages, the 
attention of the Italians of that period was drawn to the products of Greek and 
Roman art which were lying about their cities and cemeteries. Inspired by these 
ancestral achievements, they were stimulated to create their own art which was 
as firmly rooted in the past as it was prophetic of the future. In marked form 
this is true, for example, of the work of Donatello, but even Michelangelo, deep 
in the sixteenth century, may be cited in illustration of the same tendency. 

this purpose were cotton and wool, although a number of supplementary 
substances were also used. Of the different varieties of cotton present in 
Peru or the neighbourhood, Gossypium Peruvianum is the one best 
fitted for the purposes for which it was employed by the Incas of Peru, 
and for this reason was greatly preferred by them. The length of its 
fibres, ranging from an inch to almost two inches, and the presence of 
tiny hook-shaped projections along the fibres, giving this cotton the 
'rough' quality for which it is noted, were some of the traits appreciated 
by these ancient craftsmen. In addition, this particular variety of cotton 
is not annual but perennial: it can live and bear for as long as 20 years. 

The wool employed by the Peruvians all came from certain animals 
indigenous to that country and belonging to the order of Camelidae, four 
of which were available to the Incas: the guanaco, llama, alpaca, and 
vicuna. Of these the guanaco is the least important as a wool-bearer, the 
llama with its coarse wool coming next; the wool of the alpaca is finer 
in quality and noteworthy for the range of its natural colours, including 
white, bluish-grey, tawny orange, red, and dark brown. The vicuna, 
which was never domesticated, furnished by far the finest and most highly 
prized wool of all. 

Of the secondary raw materials used by the Peruvians, the nearest ap 
proach to linen was the bast fibre derived from the maguey plant. No fine 
fabrics were made from it, but the fibre was employed for making ropes, 
cords, and coarse threads. It was sometimes used for sandals, for net 
work, and for a kind of burlap-like cloth in which mummies were 

The cotton or wool threads used by the Peruvians for high-quality ma 
terials were of a high degree of perfection, though the methods at their 
disposal were technically crude. After being picked from the bolls, cotton 
was rid of seeds by hand, as was done everywhere before the days of the 
cotton gin. This seeded cotton was then bundled into convenient lots 
which were carded in order to straighten the fibres and to lay them ap 
proximately parallel to one another. Just exactly how this was done in 
ancient days is uncertain. Some believe that the necessary raking motion 
was performed by the fingers. Others hold that the combs of different 
degrees of fineness which are common in Peruvian burial-grounds were 
carding combs rather than hair combs. 

Having been seeded and carded, the cotton was ready for the distaff. 

The original habitat of the Camelidae was North America, from where one 
branch of the order moved southward, giving rise to the four animals just men 
tioned. The other moved into Asia, where it evolved into a number of beasts of tfre 
camel variety. 


This apparatus was a slender stick, less thick than a finger and about a 
foot in length, with a small ring at one end not quite closed at its upper 
extremity. Into this an appropriate amount of cotton was fitted, the two 
ends of the mass being somewhat fluffed out to ensure easy fingering. 
The lower end of the distaff was held in the spinner's left arm pit or in 
her left hand. Sometimes the whole mass of carded cotton was held in 
the left hand without the assistance of the dislaff. 

The cotton was now ready to be transferred to the spindle in the form 
of one-ply thread. The spindle was a much used and admired tool among 
the Peruvians, and so we usually find it carved or painted, while the 
whorls or weights which surrounded the shafts to give them steadiness of 
motion and momentum were richly ornamenled, the materials of which 
they were made being pottery, stone, bone, or wood. 

The preparation of woollen thread is quite like that of cotton. Having 
been removed from the animal, the wool was washed in water, but not so 
thoroughly as to wash out all of its natural oils. The latter, combined 
with spinner's saliva, helped to give the woollen thread, especially that 
of the vicuna, a moist pliability and smoothness. 

Woollen threads, though naturally less fine than those of cotton, were 
here of extraordinary fineness when compared to modern standards. 
Means states that he saw a specimen of single-ply vicuna wool with a 
thread fine enough to give a weft count of 240 to the inch. More usually 
the best woollen threads of ancient Peru ranged from 200 to 1 80 for one- 
ply thread and 190 to 130 for two-ply. The finest modern woollen threads 
made of vicuna wool, we are informed by the author, give a weft count 
of between 90 and 70. 10 

Peruvian looms were hand looms, all the operations being performed 
by the hands and fingers of the weaver. Although of the type commonly 
known as vertical, this tool when in use assumed almost a horizontal 
position. In any case the warps were maintained at proper tension by the 

10 M. D. C. Crawford, who has made a minute study of Peruvian weaving, is full 
of admiration for the skill of these ancient craftsmen. Commenting upon a particu 
larly fine piece of weave, he writes: 'Here is a highly complex design built up one 
pick of weft at a time, requiring 780 picks to complete it. Each crossing of weft 
over or under warps, causing a minute spot of colour on face or reverse, had to 
be considered in advance of each pick. It is perfecily woven, in no instance does weft 
go over or under warp more or less than the design required. How such weaving 
was possible without some form of draft or diagram 10 go by is most extraordinary. 
... No doubt the conventional geometric figures, which appear to be the common 
property of other advanced textile races, and the realistic representations peculiar 
to Peru, were well-known to each weaver, but the mechanical structure of each 
fabric had to be thought out by the worker almost independently of every other/ 
('Peruvian Fabrics,' Anthropological Papers, American Museum of Natural History, 
vol. XII, p. 151.) 


pull of the heavy lower loom-bar. This was sometimes attached by a belt 
to the weaver's body so as to enable him or her to increase the tension by 
merely leaning backward. When large pieces of cloth were made, a hand 
loom of somewhat different type was used. Two bars about as thick as a 
pel-son's forearm were fixed to sticks driven into the ground, the bars 
being parallel and al a distance of 4% or 5 feet from each other. The warp 
was stretched on these bars in a horizontal position, and as the weaving 
progressed, the cloth was wound up on the bar nearer to the weaver. 
There were also other varieties of the loom, including the small looms, 
some measuring only a half inch in width, which were employed for 
such very narrow fabrics as girdles, fillets, slings, and binding-bands. 

The use of dye-stuffs was another important element in this art. In 
order to give depth and fastness to the coloured designs, these craftsmen 
had to use mordants. The function of the mordant was to corrode the 
fibres to a slight extent, thus rendering them somewhat rough and por 
ous, with the result that they became greatly receptive to the dye and 
retained it after application. In Peru silicate of chalk, aluminium, silicate 
of aluminium, and oxide of iron were used as mordants. Means tells us 
that M, Valette, a French expert who ascertained these facts by an analy 
sis of Peruvian specimens, also found that cochineal, an animal substance, 
was used for red shades and that some of the blue ones were derived 
from indigo. Many of the shades were obtained by using the materials in 
their natural colours, as has already been stated in the case of cotton. 
Nearly all of this dyeing was done in the thread rather than in the piece. 11 

The lower classes used for their garments and other needs a cloth made 
from the lowest grade of llama wool. For floor covering and bedding a 
thick and heavy stuff was used, somewhat like thick felt. The aristocracy 
of the Empire wore cumpi, which was made of the fine wool of the 
vicunas, lambkin being preferred. Probably most of the fine woollen 
tapestry common in museum collections is cumpi. The weavers of cumpi, 
according to Father Cobo, were usually men, but the aclla-cuna or Chosen 
Women were the finest makers of cumpi, which in this case was mixed 
with the soft hair of the vizcacha, a chinchilloid rodent of the South 

1 x A particularly interesting form of dyeing is the so-called 'resist' dyeing for 
which the Punjab (India) is also noted. 'In resist dyeing,* says Crawford, 'the 
fabric is so treated that when put in the dye pot, only certain portions of it absorb 
the colours. One form of this craft was to tie little bunches of cloth with a cord either 
soaked in clay or wax or spun from fibre which has no affinity for the colours and 
then dip the tied web in the pot. This tying was done in such a way as to produce 
design by the small circles or rough squares covered by the cord and therefore left 
undyed. By tying different knots while leaving the original in place and starting with 
the lightest shade for the first immersion, it is possible to produce designs of many 
colours.' (Ibid., p. 153.) 


American pampas, and of the bat. Even more distinguished than cumpi 
was a cloth, usually cotton but sometimes wool, which was densely cov 
ered with numerous tiny and many-coloured feathers. This covering was 
so thick that the fabric of the cloth was practically invisible. The finest 
cloth of all was the material called chaquira, which was adorned with 
gold, silver, and burnished copper in the form of either tiny bells or 

Thereto hangs a tale. One of the numerous legends referring to the ori 
gin of the Inca chiefs is known as the Shining Mantle story and it runs as 
follows : Mama Siuyacu, whose name means Gradually Widening Ring, 
perceived and lamented the misery, bestiality, and ignorance in which 
the people throughout the highlands were living. Being an audacious 
woman and richly endowed with initiative, she determined to improve 
matters for the benefit of all, including her own kindred. She arrayed her 
beautiful son, Roca, in a specially prepared costume of fine cloth sinning 
with closely sewn bangles of gold. Then she placed him in a certain cave 
in the hill-side overlooking Cuzco. The lad was instructed to appear, at a 
certain time, at the mouth of the cave and to announce himself as the 
Son of the Sun and as the one sent by his Father to rule over the land. 
All went as Siuyacu had calculated. The youth appeared at the mouth of 
the cave, the rays of the sun fell upon his spangled garment and caused 
it to flash and glitter. When the people beheld this marvel, they believed 
what they had been told concerning the divine origin of the boy. Such 
is the tale of the origin of the great Inca chieftain, Inca Roca. 

It may be added here that the garments of the Incas, those of the ordi 
nary folk and of the nobility as well, were of extreme simplicity, not un 
like those of the Greeks. The distinction between the style of the lowly 
and that of the exalted was not in cut or amplitude, but solely in the 
quality of the stuffs employed and the profusion and kinds of adornments. 
The chief peculiarity of Incaic costume, however, was the head-dress 
known as llautu or masca-paicha, which was the distinctive head-gear 
of the Inca and of the imperial and noble classes. It consisted of a nar 
row and thick braid bound several times around the head, so as to form a 
band four or five inches wide. At its lower edge was a fringe which hung 
down to the eyebrows and ran from temple to temple. There were many 
variations in the colour and arrangement of this adornment, each class 
and tribe having its distinguishing form. On ceremonial and other special 
occasions ornaments of flowers and feathers were added to the llautu. 
Both sexes wore sandals; the soles of these were of leather and some 
times also the straps, but according to Cobo, the cords which held the 


sandals in place were usually of soft finely wrought wool with delicate 
patterns worked into them. 12 

Space and the limitations of a book such as this do not permit me to 
prolong this sketch so as to include other remarkable products of the 
Peruvian looms, equally distinguished as technique and as art. But enough 
has been said, I trust, to show what heights an essentially primitive tech 
nique can reach, at its best. It is equally interesting that here, as among 
the Maori, the highest achievements of technique as of art were not 
prompted by economic motives, the requirements of comfort, or any other 
'needs,' but by the self-perpetuating and self-enhancing processes of craft, 
spurred on by a widespread appreciation of things skilful and things 
beautiful, and exploited as well as fostered by the pride of class. 

The Whare Whakairo, Meeting House of the Maori 

As a fitting conclusion to this section on art, let me comment briefly 
on an elaborate sample of primitive technical skill and artistic taste, 
resting, in this case, against the background of a highly sensitized culture, 
namely that of the Maori of New Zealand. In 'agriculture' and economy, 
in seamanship, boat-building, and numerous other crafts of land or 
sea, in military valour and the arts of fortification, in poetic imagination, 
and, finally, in what for short might be called a gift for living, the 
Maori were second to none among the peoples of Polynesia. 

The anthropologist, when confronted with the cultures of Tahiti, Ha 
waii, or New Zealand, is likely to become aware, somewhat painfully, of 
the awkwardness of the term 'primitive,' even when used in the neutral 
way of science, that is, in the sense of pre-literate. Literacy, one is re 
minded, is not yet culture, but merely a condition for its attainment, 
nor does the absence of literacy preclude high cultural achievement. 

The most conspicuous building in the public square, or marae, of a 
Maori village is the whare whakairo y a house of imposing dimensions, 
elaborately carved, which is the public meeting house of the villagers. 
From a strictly technical standpoint a house of this sort required careful 
planning, structural skill, and the co-operation of many individuals. The 
hauling and setting up of the large timbers used for the ridge-pole and 
the central pillars, though not requiring skilled labour, demanded or 
ganization and supervision. There was room here for timber-dressers, 
thatchers, carvers, as well as experts in panelling reed-work. Though the 

12 Philip Ainsworth Means, Ancient Civilizations of the Andes, pp. 450-482. The 
preceding sketch is hased on Means's study. 


workers were not paid in our sense, presents were given them, and the 
continued presence of so many persons in one spot necessitated the ac 
cumulation of considerable quantities of food. It was, in other words, a 
major enterprise. The building of such a house often took five years, in 
one somewhat doubtful instance of a house at Te Orion, even as long as 
eight years. 

As native buildings go, some of the whare whakairo were of great size. 
One was 85 feet long, 30 feet broad, and 20 feet high, and could hold as 
many as 1500 people. Another was 75 feet long, 32 feet broad, while its 
ridge-pole, 16 feet from the ground, was so bulky as to have been orig 
inally supported by four pillars. The carving alone of such a house took 
between three and four years. 13 

The adornment of the building was beautiful and lavish. There was 
wood carving on door-jambs and lintel-shield, on the architrave of the 
windows, on the slabs along the inside of the veranda, on the ends of the 
deep large boards, and on the supporting posts. From the apex of the ga 
ble arose a finial in the form of a sculptured human figure or a grotesquely 
shaped head. Nor was the interior decoration neglected. Broad wooden 
slabs, heavily carved, set off the low walls, the slabs alternating with reed- 
work panels, finely laced. The skirting board and frieze panels were often 
carved in low relief. The huge ridge-pole, itself graven or painted, was 
supported by one or more pillars, each hewn from a whole tree trunk. At 
its base each pillar was worked into the semblance of a human figure, 
almost natural size. The rafters also were covered with patterned scrolls 
and red, white, and black decorations. As might be expected, the social 
affairs in these great houses were accompanied by much etiquette. The 
section allotted to guests was on the right side of the entrance, right under 
the window. Opposite, near the front of the house, the chief men of the 
village were located. The highest chief had his own sleeping place near 
the central pillar, which could not be occupied or even touched by persons 
of lesser degree, such acts being interpreted as an insult to the chief. No 
food was permitted in the house, as this would destroy the taboo or sacred 
character of the house itself and of the people within. 

Among the Maori the appreciation of carving was general and pro 
found. This fact alone, if there were no others, would account both for 
the pains expended on the meeting house and the awe it aroused when 
completed. Firth here cites a story which illustrates what heights some of 

18 Firth justly draws attention to the fact that at least among the Maori great 
skill and much artistry were expended on objects other than those needed for pri 
mary economic purposes: carved houses, war canoes, the famous greenstone neck 
ornament (heitiki), and the taniko cloak with its elaborate border. 

the Maori art products could attain. The chief Tangaroa once paid a yisit 
to such a meeting house which was ornamented with carved figures. After 
greeting the host, also a chief, with the customary salute of nose pressing, 
Tangaroa saw in the dim light a tattooed figure standing at the side of 
the house and was about to greet him in the same fashion. To his amaze 
ment, however, he discovered that it was a wooden slab carved by the 
host himself into the likeness of a tattooed chief. 'So was Tangaroa de 

The exalted sentiments aroused by these carvings were enhanced by 
some of the subjects represented in the carvings. The broad slabs support 
ing the walls of the interior were carved into a semblance of fabulous 
monsters, deities, and human beings. Of the latter there were two types. 
One showed a distorted and conventionalized form, a huge head with 
staring eyes in rakishly slanting sockets, a wide gaping mouth, out-thrust 
tongue, bowed legs, hands either gripping a weapon or with fingers 
clasped on the stomach. The other type was more realistic though not 
lacking in certain marks of conventionalization the face was that of a 
human being in repose and was delicately and intricately tattooed as that 
of a chief. Here the proportions of the human body were more closely 
adhered to. Either of these two types of carving generally bore the name 
of a deity, a famous tribal ancestor, a mythical eponymic hero, or of a 
man once renowned for his deeds who perhaps had given his name to a 
hapu. At the present time all such eminent personages, human or divine, 
are indicated by names. In former days this was neither necessary nor 
possible, but each was readily recognized by some distinguishing mark 
a flower, a mountain, two ropes to one of which the sun was attached, and 
the like. It may be added to this that only the dead, not the living, were 
represented, nor was there any attempt at portraiture. "Wliat was aimed at 
was to awaken the memory of a famous deed or of personal greatness, 
and these features were suggested by some detail in the representation. 

'The wkare wkakairo was thus a centre of communal life, a place lit 
erally crammed with tribal associations, its very name redolent with 
tribal feeling or significant of some episode of note. In this way it tended 
to provide a focus for the sentiment of the people. In its material structure 
and type of adornment it gave a means of expression for aesthetic inter 
ests, offering a field of display for the highest branches of wood-carving 
and of reed-panel technique. It gave the village people, their relatives and 
guests an opportunity of appreciating the art of the carver; it provided a 
"gallery for display" and a "public" before whom the artist could place 
his work for criticism and admiration.' 14 (See Plate XXIX.) 

14t Raymond Firth, Primitive Economics of the New Zealand Maori, pp. 82 seq. 


Chapter XIV 

In tracing the history of the human mind in its emergence from the 
animal, I took occasion to point out that the faculty of imagination shares 
with intellect as such, as a rational faculty, the distinction of being spe 
cifically human. Perhaps the most outstanding and certainly the most his 
torically significant achievement of this faculty is supernaturalism. It is 
to this man-made realm first conceived and fed by man, then to feed 
and inspire him that we shall turn in these chapters on religion. In dis 
cussion and example we shall survey magic and religion, taboo and mana, 
the practices of medicine-men, the origins of new religions, supplement 
ing these analytical sections with a few detailed expositions of primitive 
divinities, a sketch of a remarkable primitive cosmology, and another of 
the ceremonial cycle of a relatively advanced 'primitive' group. 

What Is Magic? 

Among primitives magic is ever around the corner. The bone-pointing 
of the Australian bushmen ; the malevolent as well as benevolent activities 
of the ubiquitous medicine-rnen ; the trances and tricks of the shamans of 
the Northwest Coast and Northeast Siberia; the 'black object' sym 
bolizing sin among the Eskimo, which frightens away the animals ; the 
intichiuma ceremonies of the Arunta, intended to multiply the supply of 
totem animals; the fetishism of the West Coast of Africa (is not a fe 
tish a magical battery?) ; the miracle-working 'medicine-bundles' of the 
Plains; * the automatic penalization of broken taboos in Africa or Poly- 

1 The object of such a bundle was to secure control over the evil spirits and 
other hostile powers which bring sickness and misfortune. The possessor of a 
medicine-hundle could count upon health and a long life, he was also able to 
confer these hlessings upon others. The following is a partial inventory of the 
contents of a Winnehago medicine-bundle: three paws of a black hear used as 
bags and containing herbs; a little hone tube stuffed with small feathers wrapped 
in the skin of an eagle's head and neck which, in turn, is enclosed in a pouch made 
of an otter skin; an otter skin containing dried bird's flesh and a bunch of feathers 
and fastened at the mouth with a piece of eagle's skin; two cane whistles; a paint 
bag in the form of a tiny embroidered moccasin with legging attached, containing 



nesia all these and innumerable other instances here unmentioned repre 
sent magic as it appears in primitive society. 

To these must be added the beliefs in sympathetic magic popularized 
by Frazer, beliefs which are well-nigh universal. Have in your possession 
someone's hair, nail-shavings, a piece of skin, or a garment, and he or 
she is in your power. For better or worse, their fate is in your hands. If 
a wound is inflicted by a weapon, the application of the weapon may also 
cure it. The very mention of the name of a dead person may spell disaster. 

herbs and closed by a bunch of buffalo hair; four snake skins; a white weasel 
skin containing herbs and a cane whistle; a brown weasel skin containing herbs; 
two snake vertebrae; a bone whistle; a cormorant head; a woodpecker head; a 
black squirrel skin; two small wooden dolls tied together; a dried eagle claw 
clasping a little pack of herbs, and a feather dyed red; an eagle claw clasping a 
pack of herbs, and a bunch of eagle quills painted red and green; an animal's 
eye; a horse chestnut and a tooth enclosed in a woven sack; ja diminutive wooden 
bowl and spoon; eight woven and five rolled pouches containing numerous dried 
herbs (from a description by M. R. Harrington). Compare with this the witches' 
charm in Macbeth: 

Round about the cauldron go 

In the poison'd entrails throw. 

Toad, that under coldest stone, 

Days and nights hast thirty-one 

Swelter'd venom sleeping got, 

Boil thou first i' the charmed pot 

Fillet of a fenny snake, 

In the cauldron boil and bake: 

Eye of newt, and toe of frog, 

"Wool of bat, and tongue of dog, 

Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting, 

Lizard's leg, and owlet's wing, 

For a charm of powerful trouble, 

Like a hell-broth boil and bubble. 

Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf ; 

"Witches* mummy, maw and gulf 
Of the ravin'd salt-sea shark; 
Root of hemlock, digg'd i' the dark; 
Liver of blaspheming Jew; 
Gall of goat, and slips of yew, 
Sliver'd in the moon's eclipse: 
Nose of Turk, and Tartar's lips; 
Finger of a strangled babe, 
Ditch-delivered by a drab, 
Make the gruel thick and slab. 
Add thereto a tiger's chaudron 
For the ingredients of our cauldron. 


Cool it with a baboon's blood 
Then the charm is firm and good. 

(Macbeth, Act IV, Scene I.) 


Bronislaw Malinowski in his Argonauts of the Western Pacific, as well 
as Raymond Firth in his Maori book, have emphasized another somewhat 
different type of magic associated with economic and industrial activity. 
As we had ample occasion to note, the technical aspects of primitive 
economics and industry are quite precise and often elaborate. But tech 
nique and skill do not quite solve the problem, or do not do so in every 
case. Whether in war, chase, fishing expedition, trading enterprise, the 
erection of a communal building, the giving of a feast, or the sowing of 
seed, the matter-of-fact processes mean that this much has been done in 
the direction of success. But does 'this much' suffice? The animals or fish 
may come or they may not. The seed will sprout into an ample harvest, 
if sun and rain co-operate, but not otherwise. The trading expedition may 
bring fortune and security, or failure and disaster. And so on all along 
the line. 

It is here that magic steps in. Magical rites performed before and after 
such important acts or occasions supplement the technical effort, bring 
assurance where there was only hope, extend control into the very realm 
of chance. The role of magic in this connexion is of tremendous impor 
tance, even though it can be exaggerated, as has to some extent been done 
by the authors just referred to. The psychology of the situation may be 
stated in Malinowski 's own words : *An interesting and crucial test is pro 
vided by fishing in the Trobriand Islands and its magic. While in the 
villages on the inner Lagoon fishing is done in an easy and absolutely 
reliable manner by the method of poisoning, yielding abundant results 
without danger and uncertainty, there are on the shores of the open sea 
dangerous modes of fishing and also certain types in which the yield 
greatly varies according to whether shoals of fish appear beforehand or 
not. It is most significant that in the Lagoon fishing, where man can rely 
completely upon his knowledge and skill, magic does not exist, while in 
the open-sea fishing, full of danger and uncertainty, there is extensive 
magical ritual to secure safety and good results/ 2 

2 'Magic, Science and Religion/ a section in Science, Religion and Reality, ed. 
Joseph Needham, p. 32. (By permission of The Macmillan Company, publishers.) 
Cf, further Malinowski's carefully weighed words bearing on the relative role of 
magical and matter-of-fact interpretation: 'Nowhere is the duality of natural and 
supernatural causes divided by a line so thin and intricate, yet, if carefully followed 
up, so well marked, decisive and instructive, as in the two most fateful forces of 
human destiny: health and death. Health to the Melanesian is a natural state of 
affairs, and unless tampered with, the human body will remain in perfect order. 
But the natives know perfectly well that there are natural means which can affect 
health and even destroy the body. Poisons, wounds, falls, are known to cause disable 
ment or^death in a natural way. And this is not a matter of private opinion of this or 
that individual, but it is kid down in traditional lore and even in belief, for there are 


Magical Beliefs in Modern Days 

Magic has often been represented as the very essence of the savage out 
look on life, this attitude being embodied in such terms as 'magic-ridden 
savage,' 'in the throes of magic, 7 and the like. To this notion is related 
Levy-Bruhl's view that savage mentality is essentially magical and pre- 
logical in contrast with the objective rationality of the modern mind. In 
a certain sense all this is, of course, true. In many technical and economic 
pursuits, from which all magic, supernaturalism, and even subjectivism 
are strictly excluded in the modern scene, magical beliefs and rituals play 
an important part in all primitive communities. It is also true that magi 
cal notions and practices are more regularly and systematically employed 
among primitives than they are today and that the associated beliefs 
enjoy a more respectable and generally approved status among these 

To say this, however, is one thing, to whitewash modern man com 
pletely as to matters magical is another. The fact is that magical ways of 
thought are far from unknown in societies other than the primitive. 
Frazer and Mannhardt found inspiration for highly elaborate and pictur 
esque accounts in the 'superstitions' current among the peasantry of mod 
ern Europe. In the traditional beliefs of these folk, spirits, ghosts and 
demons, spooks and apparitions, visions, dreams, and omens continue to 
hold undisputed sway in the face of the centuries-old teachings of Chris 
tianity, which seem quite powerless to dislodge these more ancient and 
deep-rooted attitudes. 3 

considered to be different ways to the nether world for those who die by sorcery and 
those who meet "natural" death. Again, it is recognized that cold, heat, overstrain, 
too much sun, overeating, can all cause minor ailments, which are treated by natural 
remedies such as massage, steaming, warming at a fire, and certain, potions. Old age 
is known to lead to bodily decay and the explanation is given by the natives that very 
old people grow weak, their oesophagus closes up and therefore they must die, 

'But besides these natural causes there is a vast domain of sorcery and by far 
the most cases of illness and death are ascribed to this. The line of distinction be 
tween sorcery and the other causes is clear in theory and in most cases of practice, 
but it must be realized that it is subject to what could be called the personal 
perspective. That is, the more closely a case has to do with the person who con 
siders it, the less will it be "natural," the more "magical." Thus a very old man, whose 
pending death will be considered natural by the other members of the community, 
will be afraid only of sorcery and never think of his natural fate. A fairly sick 
person will diagnose sorcery in his own case, while all the others might speak of too 
much betel nut or over-eating or some other indulgence.' (Ibid., pp. 32-33; cf. also 
the entire section, pp. 30-35.) 

8 In the early writings of the Russian satirist, Gogol, which deal with the peasant 
life of South Russia, we find a picture of the beliefs and customs of these 
peasants which are thick with magical notions and rites, and might, in this re- 


Even in our cities, amid schools and universities, the faith in charms 
persists unabated side by side with the belief in lucky and unlucky days 
and the evil eye. 4 

In the fold of institutionalized Christianity itself we discern attitudes 
towards the objective symbols of the divine which are heavy with magical 
connotations. So are the beliefs in other than natural healing which ren 
der medical charlatanism so common and profitable, and feed the fame 
of certain holy places, 'shrines of salvation,' which were numerous and 
popular in Czarist Russia, and are known to exist and thrive in France 
and Canada. 5 

Everyone knows of the great popularity of such modern magicians as 
Wagner or Thurston, who amazed and delighted vast audiences in the 
midst of a matter-of-fact world. 'But what bearing has this on magic?' 
someone might exclaim. 'Surely everyone knows that these magicians are 
merely tricksters. 3 True enough; but we do not know how they perform 
their tricks, and our reactions to the emergence of a rabbit out of a silk 
hat or to the levitation of a magician's female companion until she hangs 
suspended in mid-air are visual experiences which for the time being are 
accepted as facts, not tricks. It is to this that our amazement is due. Many 
frank persons have confessed to a feeling of distinct uneasiness when 
watching such performances, plausibly due to a recognition on the part 
of these persons that at the time and place they found themselves ac 
cepting as true something they would under other conditions reject as 

spect, be favourably compared with the supernatural equipment of any primitive 

*0ver 20 years ago, when I was teaching anthropology at Barnard College, I 
once chanced to ask my students, distinguished as a group for their 'modernity' 
and sophistication, whether they carried on their persons any objects to which they 
ascribed magic-working properties, such as rings, amulets, lockets, necklaces, and 
the like. I called for written statements, unsigned. As a result some one-half of the 
students present confessed to one or another sort of relevant belief or practice. In 
commenting upon these confessions to the class I remember having stated that 
some 50 percent of them had admitted their partial submergence in magical idiosyn 
crasies, whereas the other 50 percent had not had the courage to do so. Nothing has 
happened in my teaching experience in the interim to change my judgment in this 
matter, apart from a possible shift in percentages. 

5 Note in this connection the following news item: Templemore, Ireland. An in 
cessant stream of pilgrims from all parts of Ireland continues to pour into Temple- 
more to visit the home of Thomas Divan, where it was recently asserted miraculous 
cures were being effected through the medium of sacred statues, said to have shed 
blood mysteriously last week. 

The neighbouring towns and villages are overflowing with people unable to get 
into Templemore. . . . 

'Further remarkable cures are claimed today. 5 From The New York Times, August 
25, 1920. (Reprinted by permission.) 


It is especially interesting that a disclosure of sleight-of-hand in a ma 
gician's performance and such disclosures have heen frequent does not 
seem to stem his popularity or weaken the gullibility of his audience. 
Haudini, a great trickster and 'magician' in his own right, spent much 
time and effort in exposing his less sincere colleagues. His books were 
read by many, but the magicians, undismayed, continued to ply their 
trade in miracles. Another striking instance connected with the modern 
stage and bearing on this point is to be found in the movies of the Mickey 
Mouse variety. These pictures represent the magical universe in its most 
undistilled form. We have here the same disregard of space and time; the 
typical magical shifts in size and shape ; humanizing of animals, birds, 
and other natural features ; transformation of men into animals and vice 
versa; accomplishment of impossible feats of speed and strength. And 
what is our reaction ? When a huge monster hides his portly figure behind 
the trunk of a sapling, or when a cow smashed to bits by bullets presently 
becomes whole again, we are not outraged but delighted. The whole per 
formance does not impress us as either ludicrous or absurd, but as fasci 
nating and, for the moment, convincing. Apparently our minds follow 
this tabloid magic without any effort whatsoever, delighted to travel 
along these ancient trails. In such moments we are ourselves magicians, 
or magical devotees, pure and simple. It is, moreover, to be noted that 
the line between the merely improbable and the impossible is not care 
fully drawn in the pictures, nor is it clearly realized by the beholder. 

Nor is the domain of secular life free from the incursions of magic. 
This includes medicine, notoriously the most matter-of-fact of the profes 
sions. The status in modern society of medicine and its representative, the 
physician, is by no means devoid of a certain magical flavour. To be sure, 
the physician's knowledge and experience count for much in determining 
his reputation, but they do not count for all. What is uppermost in the 
mind of the public is success: a few conspicuous cures, however acci 
dental and unforeseeable, contribute more to the good repute of a practi 
tioner than a prolonged period of efficient but drab medical toil. A suc 
cessful physician walks in a halo which is not wholly unlike that of the 
shaman. His appeal is at least in part that of a man whose powers are 
extraordinary. Nor are they felt to be reducible to mere knowledge and 
experience. It is felt that there is something here beyond the reach of 
ordinary individuals and perhaps of most other physicians. Many of us, 
I suppose, would be loathe to aver this, although some few do so; the 
rest experience the reaction but are not frank or discerning enough to 
admit it. 

The belief in dreams is no longer 'good form' in our midst, but how 


many are there who can claim complete emancipation from the tendency 
to ascribe to dreams at least a certain power to transcend space and time? 
A woman dreams of her mother and upon awakening finds the news of 
the mother's sickness or death in her morning mail ; she 'had not thought 
of mother for days/ 'had no idea that she could be sick,' and 'why just the 
night before the letter came?' and 'can it be only a coincidence?/ and 
so it goes. Let only the 'coincidences' multiply, and the staunchest doubter 
begins to waver in his or her scepticism. 

Among the examples of latter-day supernaturalism few are more strik 
ing than the persistent belief that the psychic or other experiences of a 
pregnant woman may exercise a specific effect on the child. We hear of 
children born during the French Revolution with the revolutionary em 
blem on their chests or backs; or again a mother frightened by a frog 
gives birth to a child with a birth-mark resembling a frog. Another child 
whose mother had broken her wrist while in pregnancy is born with its 
wrist broken or weakened in the same place; and so on indefinitely. In a 
book published some years ago (Sex Antagonism, by Walter Heape), a 
collection of such instances is brought before the reader as worthy of 
belief. The author happens to be a professional animal fancier, whose 
day-by-day experiences inevitably acquaint him with facts suggesting 
interpretations through 'inheritance by magic' (Kroeber) . As Jacob could 
not resist the temptation of interpreting by a mechanism like the above 
the peculiar and varied colouration of his sheep, no more can the modern 
fancier overcome the suggestion derived from the many instances in his 
experience where an interpretation through prenatal influence might be 
made and he makes it forthwith. Many persons who would reject such 
reasoning with a shrug of the shoulders prove equally positive in their 
claim that should the expectant mother engage in voluminous reading, the 
literary proclivities of the offspring might be stimulated; or should she 
frequent concerts, its musical gifts would be similarly enhanced. In prin 
ciple, of course, there is no difference between the two kinds of cases. Add 
to this lucky and unlucky days, magic numbers, black cats, nuns, umbrel 
las opened indoors, knocking on wood, three candles (or cigarettes) 
lighted by one match, open pen-knives, the number 13 (still omitted in 
many hotels) , starting things on Monday, wishing good luck to a hunter 
(which is supposed to be an ill omen), breaking a dish, or any untoward 
happening at a ceremony or ether emotionally significant occasion, and 
the impression becomes inescapable that modern society is, after all, not 
so far removed from a belief in other than natural causes. When an aver 
age modern, moreover, tries to be.most 'scientific,' he would often prove, 
upon analysis, to be furthest removed from rationality. Thus, when he is 


found declaring that this or that is done by electricity, without under 
standing what it is or how it operates, electricity to him, psychologically 
speaking, is but another mana, a power other than natural, working in 
mysterious and incomprehensible ways in brief, accomplishing the im 

Not infrequently one may hear a person remarking: 'I am supersti 
tious.' In this form sincere persons give expression to their recognition 
of the fact that, though rational in intent, they are unable to resist the 
temptation to react in a special way in certain situations. It may be ob 
served, I think, that the proclivity of people to be 'superstitious' in this 
sense is proportionate to the degree to which their profession or occupa 
tion stands in the control of unforeseeable factors. Here the gambler 
comes first. From day to day, from moment to moment, his future is un 
certain. He may be a mathematician and as such fully aware of the un 
reasonableness of the concept of luck; yet, no sooner does he fall under 
the spell of the green lawn, the green table, or the tape, than the psychol 
ogy of chance has him in its power; like his brother, primitive man, he 
is under the spell of luck magic. Next to the gambler comes the hunter 
or fisherman; he may be a master of his craft, but legion is the name of 
unforeseeable factors which at least co-determine his success. Hence his 
acute sensitivity towards omens, dreams, prognostications, well-wishing, 
and other like premonitions. Here also belongs the actor. Actors and ac 
tresses enjoy a deserved reputation for superstitious inclinations far above 
the average. Once more this tendency may be brought into relation with 
the capriciousness of their fate. Apart from talent, training, or even 
former favours on the part of the public, the life of an actor, including his 
contract and ultimately his dinner, depends from night to night on the 
appeal of a particular performance to the audience. We all know the elu- 
siveness of public taste, and actors and actresses know it only too well. 
One cannot bank on it, hence the constant suspense. Such being the case, 
the host of omens, good and bad signs, and other representatives of the 
magical family, appear upon the scene. 6 

6 Another recent profession subject to unusual concatenations of unforeseeable 
and menacing factors is that of the aviator, and the usual result in re magic is much 
in evidence. A well known scout-pilot was known to wear five charms hung around 
his neck. Whenever he took the air these were to be in place. One was the famous 
'square 13' engraved upon a thin gold plate, another was a locket which he was 
never seen to open, the third was a bit of lace presumably from the edge of a 
handkerchief, the fourth was a tiny drawing on a square of heavily oiled silk, 
and the fifth was some sort of metallic object, perhaps a ring, sewn into a small 
cloth sack. 

There was one charm known to pilots of the British Royal Air Force, few of 
whom were fortunate enough to possess it. It was a small gold horse-shoe, made 


Some Problems in the Study of Magic and Religion 

A number of topics in the field of primitive religion have been claim 
ing the attention of anthropologists for a long time. Some of these topics 
are significant and real, others less so, but they should not be passed over 
in silence, if only for the reason that they have already been discussed 
so much. In this connexion we shall now consider briefly the following 
subjects: the relations of magic to science and religion, and the relations 
of the individual to the social element in religion. 

Magic and Science. Among the many scholars who have written on 
and about magic, J. G. Frazer stands out as the one who has in his The 
Golden Bough covered the entire enormous range of magical phenomena 
and brought them to a common denominator. In the course of his analysis 
Frazer also examines magic in its relationship to religion and to science. 
Frazer conceives of the magical universe as closely akin to that of science ; 
in fact, he refers to magic as primitive science. Magic, he says, is definite 
and precise. Its mechanisms, the 'acts' of magic, operate uniformly to 
achieve uniform results. These results, moreover, follow automatically 
or mechanically. So far, Frazer's analogy seems feasible enough. On 
closer examination, however, this characterization of magic proves to be 

in two parts, similar to two shoes fitted together; on the inner sides of these 
halves the -words 'faith and hope* were inscribed. The crack pilot of the British 
Central Flying School outside London carried one of these talismans and managed 
to survive more bad crashes than any other man in the station. One Polish pilot 
had a small box built into the side of his ship close to his right hand; in this he 
arranged a comfortable nest for his mascot, a snowy white imperial Peking drake, 
who went out with him on every flight. 

Many pilots were superstitious about the number 13, some regarding it as a bad, 
others as a good omen. The most widely recognized jinx, however, was that of 
the last-flight' man. The record seems to show that more good pilots were killed 
while making what they knew to be their last flight at a certain field, or the last 
flight before being discharged, than on any other occasion, even including the 
hottest days of the war. Armistice Day claimed a large number of flyers, one of 
whom was 'Hobie' Baker of Princeton, who was killed while celebrating the end 
of the war. 

Another common superstition carrying a good-luck connotation was that of 
seeing the shadow of one's ship in reduced detail upon the surface of a summer's- 
day cloud. Under such conditions the billowy white banks of moisture always 
produce a fairy-like rainbow encircling the tiny picture. The effect is of an ex 
quisite miniature painted in silhouette upon ivory. The vision is always fleeting: 
just for an instant is the aeroplane in exactly the right position between the sun 
and the ground. Some thoroughly sophisticated pilots have been known to laugh 
over 'the rainbow's good luck,' but the majority felt otherwise and they 'knew.' 
(These airmen's superstitions are gleaned from the New York Times Magazine 
for November 7, 1926.) A primitive overcome with awe at the sight of "White 
man's technical accomplishment in the aeroplane would appreciate these touches 
of the common human in his modern brother. 


more nearly correct than significant: it leaves out that which is of the 
essence of magic, namely the belief in the transcendent or supernatural 
power of the magical act and, behind it, of the will that controls it, that 
is, the will of the magician. Furthermore, the failure of any particular 
magical act in no way affects the faith in magic or even in the efficacy of 
the act that has failed. No, the failure is accounted for by another magical 
act exercised by someone else, perhaps more powerful, which frustrates 
the initial act. In other words the magical act or performance is proof 
against the lessons of experience and ensured against change consequent 
upon failure. 

If this is magic, the analogy with science evaporates. In the centre of 
scientific operations stands the willingness of the scientist to profit by 
adverse experience, to revise his acts in the light of failure or incomplete 
success, thus ultimately to achieve the desired result and the implied con 
trol. There is similarity, then, between magic and science in so far as both 
possess precision and a teleological character; but the similarity is more 
apparent than real. The magician's precision, his hard-and-fast magical 
recipe, is after all, nothing but a sanctified routine; the precision of the 
scientist aims at accuracy, measurement these are, of course, quite be 
yond the magician's pan. And again, whereas the magician wields a tool 
that remains unchangeable, for experience cannot touch it, the tool of the 
scientist his hypothesis or experiment is plastic : it is ready to change 
at the bidding of experience. 

Magic and Religion. Frazer's view of the relation of magic to religion 
is even less satisfactory. We are told that religion involves the conception 
of a superior deity, and the particulars added by the author leave no room 
for doubt what particular deity he has in mind. Short of this there is no 
religion, only magic. Consequently the Australians, for example, though 
magic-ridden, are innocent of religion. In the light of such a conception 
of religion a vast number of primitive tribes would fall into the category 
of the Australians: magic no religion. This attitude reminds one of the 
notion against which E. B. Tylor had to fight in his day: the notion, 
namely, that the most primitive peoples were utterly devoid of religion, 
a conclusion made possible by a trick of terminology the religion of 
these folk was disposed of as 'superstition.' But 'superstition/ as every 
one knows, is merely a religion one does not believe in. Frazer's attitude 
represents the same kind of reasoning. 

When we say that magic may not be excluded from religion, this should 
not imply that it may not also be differentiated from religion. Wherein, 
then, lies the common element of magic and religion, and what are the 
earmarks of magic as such? The common element lies in the immersion 


in supernaturalism. In conception, in mode of behaviour, in the implied 
emotions, the supernatural constitutes a realm apart. Experiences with 
the supernatural are accompanied by a peculiar exaltation, a religious 
thrill. It is true that in religion or magic, as actually practised even by 
primitives, this thrill is not always there. This is due to the tendency of 
such emotions to 'evaporate' (Marett) when the procedure becomes ha 
bitual and formalized, a mere something to be gone through and over " 
with. But the 'live' religious or magical situation is characterized by the 
presence of these emotions; the atmosphere is charged with mystic po 
tency, and man responds. In this, then, lies the common ground of magic 
and religion. 

The peculiarity of the magical situation, on the other hand, lies in the 
attitude of the magician when contrasted with that of the religious devo 
tee. Both pursue certain ends, often practical ones, and both operate 
within the supernatural realm, but whereas the religious devotee prays 
or sacrifices, the magician controls he performs his act and the result 
must follow. The orientation of the will, then, is different. In the first case 
(religion) there is submission or dependence, in the second (magic), 
self-determination and control. 

Connected with the typical technical complications of the magical act 
is the further fact, stressed by Malinowski, that magic tends to develop 
technical experts or professionals, whereas religion, though equipped 
with priests and religious leaders, remains free to all and for all. This 
interpretation of magic and religion gains in plausibility when viewed in 
the light of later historic developments. Both religion and magic are 
rooted in subjectivity, but whereas magic tends in its later stages to 
crystallize into a ritual or spell, pure and simple, religion, though never 
free from ritualism, hence standardization, remains amenable to subjec 
tive elaboration and reinterpretation. 7 

7 In connexion with the argument developed in the last two sections, consider 
the following quotation from Malinowski. 'Science, even as represented by the 
primitive knowledge of savage man, is based on the normal, universal experience 
of everyday life, experience won in man's struggle with nature for his subsistence 
and safety, founded on observation, fixed by reason. Magic is based on specific 
experience of emotional states in which man observes not nature but himself, in 
which the truth is revealed not by reason, but by the play of emotions upon the 
human organism. Science is founded on the conviction that experience, effort, and 
reason are valid; magic on the belief that hope cannot fail nor desire deceive. 
The theories of knowledge are dictated by logic, those of magic by the association 
of ideas under the influence of desire. As a matter of empirical fact, the body of 
rational knowledge and the body of magical law are incorporated each in a dif 
ferent tradition, in a different social setting, and in a different type of activity, 
and all these differences are clearly recognized by the savages. The one constitutes 
the domain of the profane; the other, edged around by observances, mysteries, and 


The Individual and the Social Factors in Religion. All students of 
religion recognize the importance for an understanding of religious phe 
nomena of two factors: the individual and the social. The phenomena of 
conversion, the lives of prophets, saints, messiahs, or such subjective rec 
ords as William James succeeded in bringing together in his Varieties of 
Religious Experience, served to draw attention to the individual and per 
sonal in religion. The role of ritual, on the other hand, the force of re 
ligious traditionalism and dogma, the ubiquity, finally, of suggestion and 
imitation in religious movements, as described, for example, by Otto 
Stoll, in his Hypnotism and Suggestion (in German), tended to throw 
light on the participation of society in determining the content and form 
of religion. Withal, it remained for fimile Durkheim, in his The Elemen 
tary Forms of Religious Life, to construct a purely sociological theory 
of religion, in which society is made to function not merely as the moulder 
and preserver of religion, but as its source and prototype, of which reli 
gion itself is but a subjective reflection. 

The fundamental fact of all religion, according to Durkheim, is the 
bifurcation of culture into two realms, the sacred and the profane. The 
real problem to him is to find an answer to the questions: Whence the sa 
cred? What experiences have engendered it? 

By way of introduction to this doctrine, Durkheim argues that the nat 
ural and supernatural, as intellectual categories, cannot be clearly dis 
tinguished by the primitives. Having no precise sense of the natural, he 
says, the primitives cannot have a clear idea of the supernatural. Durk 
heim also rejects the attempt made by Spencer and Tylor to derive the 
basic religious concepts and attitudes from the experiences of ordinary 
perception, supplemented by dreams and visions. Such experiences, 
thinks Durkheim, might indeed lead to mental aberrations, to errors of 
judgment, but they cannot account for the categorical character and the 
irresistible impact of religious faith. This faith is too real to have been 
engendered by an illusion. Rather must it be rooted in a reality as solid 
as religious experience itself. This reality Durkheim finds in Society (note 
the capital) . He observes that the profane or secular realm in primitive 
Australia the major subject of his book embraces most of the private 
or individual activities, whereas the Sacred or religious realm is repre 
sented by myths, ceremonies, and rites, all of which are group affairs. 
On these latter occasions, the individual undergoes a radical psychic 
transformation. When in the throes of ritual-induced ecstasy he is beyond 
himself, his energy seems well-nigh inexhaustible, his senses and percep- 

taboos, makes up half of the domain of the sacred.' (Op. cit., p. 80. By permission 
of The Macmillan Company, publishers,) 


tions function abnormally. Whether leader or led, he lives for the time 
being on a different level. What makes the individual behave this way, 
argues Durkheim, is nothing else but Society itself stirring and irre 
sistible, it dominates the individual psyche, thus giving rise to the sense 
of the Sacred. The Sacred, then, is but a subjective reflection of the social 
'categorical determinant.' Religion, as experienced by the individual, is 
the symbol of Society. 

However ingenious as a theory, Durkheim's position must be regarded 
as extremely one-sided and psychologically inadmissible. The division of 
experience or life into a sacred and a profane realm is a valid enough 
conception, applicable to modern as to primitive society. What is inad 
missible is the identification of the profane with the individual, the sacred 
with the social. In economic pursuits and industry, in the ideas and cus 
toms clustering about the family or kinship, social factors figure at least 
as prominently as individual ones, without, however, assuming a halo of 
sanctity. In the religious realm, on the other hand, the individual often 
finds himself 'alone, 5 in more than a literal sense. The very essence, in 
fact, of the religious situation may at times reside in this aloneness and 
aloofness of the individual, his only companion, in this context, being 
the supernatural itself. To say that the social factors in rites and cere 
monies tend to fortify and crystallize the religious emotion is one thing, 
to regard them as its only or basic source, another. It is true that religious 
dogma and the traditionalism of religious forms, obviously social factors, 
are ever present in the realm of the sacred. But society here remains, after 
all, a fortifying or precipitating agency, not a germinating force. Grant 
the religious emotion, and society can do wonders with it! But it cannot 
manufacture it out of whole cloth, nor out of itself. Society, of course, 
finds in religion a useful helpmate, and religion, in turn, leans heavily 
upon society. But this is another story. 8 

8 For a much more elaborate presentation and criticism of Durkheim's position 
see my 'Religion and Society' (Journal of Philosophy, 1916; now reprinted, with 
slight changes, in History, Psychology, and Culture). After some hesitation, I 
decided to include this hrief resume and critique of Durkheim in this book at the 
risk of its heing snuhhed as Mated.' Durkheim's very remarkable book continues 
to be read by students and laymen, and frequently I find them enthralled ('taken 
in' is the right word) by just those of his ideas which are most questionable. 

Chapter XV 

Mana or Impersonal Supernatural Power 

Our analysis of religion and magic makes it clear that the idea of super 
natural power is common to both and represents the basic concept under 
lying the religio-magical world view. On the emotional side an equally 
fundamental factor is the religious thrill. 

The idea of supernatural power assumed a central position in the dis 
cussion of primitive religions with the introduction of the mana concept. 
The recent career of this concept is so instructive as to invite a slight 
historical digression. 

Mana was formally introduced to ethnologists by R. H. Codrington 
in his book, The Melanesians (1891). By means of numerous illustra 
tions, Codrington showed that among the various tribes of the South Seas, 
mana, as a religious concept, occupies a distinct and clearly defined po 
sition: it indicates power which is supernatural and impersonal. Mana 
itself is not an animal or a human being, nor a ghost or spirit. It is just 
power, magical potency. Although impersonal in itself, it can work its 
effects with equal facility through natural objects or beings, or through 
men, spirits, or ghosts. 1 

Writing about mana in his book, Polynesian Religion, E. S. C. Handy 
says: The mana of the individual was believed to be concentrated in the 
head which, according to Polynesian philosophy, was associated with the 
superior, divine aspect of nature. . . . 

4 A prophet or diviner, who was the oracular medium of a spirit or god, 
had little or no accretion of personal mana because of his inspirational 
talent his mana was but that of the spirit or god he served. ... On the 
other hand, the ritualistic priest was a personal embodiment of acquired 
mana, who exhibited his power in the efficacy of his ritual, and in his 
knowledge of occult influences and power to interpret omens. . . . 

1 It may be noted in passing that in this area the ideas of ghost and spirit are 
sharply distinguished. A ghost is always the spirit of a deceased individual, whereas 
a spirit is a spiritual entity which either exists in detached form or dwells in a 
thing or being. 



4 In the case 6f a man of learning, such as a teacher of sacred law, ac 
curacy of memory, extensive knowledge, and keenness of mind, were the 
evidences of his mana. In the Marquesas Islands any person who was an 
adept at any occupation was a tuhuna, a master. Every tuhuna possessed 
mana for the particular activity in which he was skilled. But there were 
rare individuals whose learning and ability extended to all the depart 
ments of man's activity : knowledge, ritual, arts and crafts. Such an adept, 
whose mana was so great that he was second to none in the tribe in sacred- 
ness, was honoured with the title of tuhuna nui, great master or adept. The 
ability, talent or capacity possessed by tuhuna appears to have been re 
garded as in part due to natural endowment, but more particularly to 
education, consecration, and experience. A Marquesan youth who could 
not memorize the ancient law was spoken of as being "without mana"; 
but anyone who had great ability, showed sufficient persistence in learn 
ing from his teacher, and submitted to the required consecratory rites 
could become a master bard and ceremonial priest (tuhuna oono). Such 
a scholar grew in power and prestige as he demonstrated the superiority 
of his knowledge and wit in contests that were from time to time held be 
tween the wise men of different tribes; but if in such a contest with other 
tuhuna, he proved incapable of meeting his opponent's sallies, or to be 
ignorant or in error, he was considered in some way to have lost the 
mana he once possessed. With his defeat, his prestige and power were 
dissipated, he was no longer recognized as a master, and it was sometimes 
even believed that his defeat would cause his death. The mental darkness 
or blindness that would lead to such a downfall might, according to native 
ideas, result from the man's having come under a spell of witchcraft of 
an opponent or enemy, or from psychic defilement or broken tapu. 

'Another type of mana was that evidenced in physical prowess. . . . 
In the Marquesas it was through personal prowess that a tribesman be 
came a war chief. The warrior was thought to embody the mana of all 
those whom he had killed, his own mana increasing in proportion with 
his prowess. In the mind of the native, the prowess was the result, how 
ever, not the cause of his mana. The mana of the warrior's spear was like 
wise increased with each death he inflicted. As the sign of his assumption 
of his defeated enemy's power, the victor in a hand-to-hand combat as 
sumed his slain foe's name; with a view to absorbing directly his mana, 
he ate some of his flesh ; and to bind the presence of the empowering in 
fluence in battle, to insure his intimate rapport with the captured mana, 
he wore as a part of his war dress some physical relic of his vanquished 
foe a bone, a dried hand, sometimes a whole skull.' 2 
2 Bulletin, Bernice P. Bishop Museum, voL XXXIV, pp. 31-32. 


Among these South Seas natives, mana was identified with procreative 
power, with the male principle in nature, with the divine, with life and 

Quite independently of Codrington's researches, primitive concepts 
similar to mana were discovered in North America. Of special interest in 
this connexion are William Jones's article, 'The Algonquin Manitou,' 3 
and J. N. B. Hewitt's 'Orenda or a Definition of Religion.' 4 Both writers 
are of Indian descent, William Jones belonging to the Algonquin-speaking 
Sauk and Fox Indians, while Hewitt is a Tuscarora Iroquois. 

By means of ethnological and linguistic evidence Jones shows convinc 
ingly that the Algonquin concept, manitou, implies supernatural power, 
in itself impersonal, which may or may not manifest itself through ob 
jects, beings, and natural phenomena. The term may appear either with 
or without a personal prefix, in accordance with the meaning intended. 
Among other illustrations of the application of the idea, Jones mentions 
the practice of eating the heart of a slain warrior in order to partake of his 
manitou, or supernatural potency. The practice, it will be seen, as well 
as the ideology, are strictly comparable to those recorded by Handy 
among the Polynesians. 

Hewitt's argument is based wholly on a linguistic reconstruction. He 
traces the root vowel of the term orenda in a large number of terms re 
ferring to things, beings, or actions connected with supernatural power. 
Taking this as his starting point, Hewitt constructs an ancient Iroquoian 
religion built around the idea of orenda, impersonal supernatural power. 
While this procedure is not wholly unobjectionable fi;om a theoretical 
standpoint, it is quite certain that the term orenda, with all its derivatives, 
carries a mystical connotation, and that the implied concept is related to 
the Algonquin manitou and the Siouan wakan or wakonda. While the 
cultural diversification of these tribes, as well as the cultural gulf sepa 
rating these Indians from the Polynesians, would preclude any identity 
in the specific terms employed or the denoted ideas, manitou, orenda, 
wakan, and other such concepts for instance, among the Kwakiutl and 
Eskimo must certainly be regarded as closely related to mana. 

Presently still another field was drawn into the discussion. In a volume 
on certain natives of the West Coast of Africa, between the deltas of the 
Congo and the Niger, Pechuel-Loesche 5 brought further contributory 
evidence. This is the classical region of fetishism. In his book Fetishism 
(in German), Heinrich Schurtz, now some seventy years ago, defined 

* Journal of American Folk-Lore, vol. XVIII, 1905, pp. 183-190. 

* American Anthropologist, vol. IV, New Series, 1892. 

5 The Loango Expedition (in German) , vol. Ill, 1907, pp. 347-349. 


fetishism as the religion of the fetish, a small (usually artificial) object 
through which an indwelling spirit is believed to be operating. As a re 
sult of his painstaking researches, including a linguistic analysis, Pechuel- 
Loesche arrived at a different interpretation. He claims that the concep 
tion underlying the fetishistic beliefs of this area (in particular, of the 
Bafioti) is not that of an indwelling spirit. To him a fetish is an artificial 
object made in a certain way or prepared in accordance with a standard 
ized recipe, which possesses a specific power, or in some instances, several 
such powers. 6 If the shape of the object is changed or the recipe care 
lessly followed, the power is lost or modified. The underlying idea is 
that of power, in itself impersonal, definite qualities and quantities of 
which can be secured under certain highly specific conditions. Once 
again, then, the idea involved seems similar to mana. 

In its wider bearings, Pechuel-Loesche's position may be one-sided. 
The idea of an indwelling spirit is so common in Africa and elsewhere 
that there can scarcely be any doubt of its occurrence in this western re 
gion of the continent. However this may be, the author's stand with refer 
ence to West African fetishes seems well taken. 7 

Thus the mana idea was established on a fairly wide geographical 
basis. There followed a rich harvest of theory and discussion. In this 
phase of the problem, the main stimulus came from Marett's essay, Tre- 
animistic Religion,' 8 in which he used the mana concept to supplement 
the ideology of animism which was still in complete possession of the 
field of primitive religion. Marett argued, moreover, that the idea of 
impersonal power was in its very nature more simple than that of spirit 
and that it should, therefore, be regarded as more primitive. Marett's con 
tribution came at an auspicious moment; presently his little essay became 
the crystallization-point for a new philosophy of primitive religion. At 
the Third International Congress of Religions, held at Oxford in 1908, 
the subject of mana and c animatism' (Marett's term for the pre-animistic 

6 A substance or object, jn itself, has only one specific power; but by combining 
several substances or objects a composite fetish ('revolver fetish,' the author calls 
it) can be produced which will wield the combined powers of its parts. Pechuel- 
Loesche distinguishes two grades of fetishism, a lower and a higher. What he 
designates as low-grade fetishism appears to be nothing more than common 
magic: to cure a thorn sore, rub the thorn over the wound; to protect yourself 
against elephant or hippopotamus, carry with you parts of its body. Hoofs, horns, 
claws, hair, nails, skin-shavings, of animals or men, can all be similarly used, for 
offence or defence. High-grade fetishism, on the other hand, implies esoteric knowl 
edge and expertness; it is the prerogative of medicine-men or magicians to know 
the recipes and possess the requisite skill. 

7 For a careful summary of beliefs in souls and spirits in Africa, see Ankermann 
in-Zeitschrift fur Ethnologic, vol. L, 1918, pp. 89-153 (in German) . 

8 Folk-Lore, 1900. See also Marett's book, The Threshold of Religion. 


religion) was the principal topic of discussion in the section devoted to 
primitive religion. 

In subsequent writings mana became identified with magic and in this 
form its use became still further extended. Hubert and Mauss, two faith 
ful students of Durkheim, made a sweeping application of the mana con 
cept in their treatise on magic, 9 T. K. Preuss skilfully wove the mana 
idea into his analysis of the beginnings of religion and art, 10 while Durk 
heim in his great book identified mana with the religious core of to- 

Thus the dogma of animism, of a spirit-infested world, was supple 
mented, in fact, came near being replaced by another dogma, a world 
swept by mana, or impersonal magic power. 

In retrospect, the mana idea must be welcomed as a genuine addition 
to our understanding of early religion, nay of all religion. There is, of 
course, no point in juxtaposing mana and spirit, as to chronological pri 
ority; what is important is to realize that the idea of spirit must be supple 
mented by that of power (mana) , if primitive religion, or any religion, 
is to be understood. Mana supplies the dynamic principle, whereas spirit, 
as such, is but a concept of form or being. When James T. Shotwell de 
fines religion as 4 a reaction of mankind to something which is appre 
hended but not comprehended' 1X he omits to state that the something to 
which there is a reaction is not merely a form, substance, or being, but a 
power. From this it follows that the idea of supernatural power imper 
sonal, formless in itself, but withal, a power and supernatural must be 
coupled with spirit in all interpretations of religion. Indeed, if the signs 
of the times are to be trusted, may I not suggest that the more dynamic and 
vaguer idea may outlive its more precise and static companion? 12 

9 'Sketch of a General Theory of Magic* (in French), Annee Sociologique, vol. 
VII, 1904. 

1( > 'Origin of Religion and Art' (in German), Globus, 1904-1905. 

11 The Religious Revolution of Today, p. 101. 

12 A brief formulation of the relations of mana to religion, magic, and animism 
will be found in my article 'Spirit, Mana and the Religious Thrill,* Journal of 
Philosophy, vol. XIII, 1915 (reprinted, with revisions, in History, Psychology, and 
Culture). In this somewhat abstract essay I made an attempt to show that, from 
a psychological and epistemological standpoint, mana must be regarded as a 
projection or objectivation of what, on the subjective side, is the religious thrill: 
mana is that which causes the religious thrill. Now, if the religious thrill is ac 
cepted as the basic emotional root of religion, then mana, a psychologically basic 
mana, underlying its varied historic forms, becomes the fundamental idea of religion. 
Mana is but a term for an emotion, projected as a 'something* into the super 
natural realm. Such emotions, religious, aesthetic, sexual, luminous as experience, 
defy more precise analysis. 


The All-Father 


During recent years certain primitive ideas have been reported from 
different fields of investigation which seem to differ not only from the 
cruder animistic beliefs, but also from the zoomorphic conceptions of 
early mythology. These ideas are usually discussed as the All-Father be 
liefs. The Aranda or Arunta of Central Australia, for example, believe 
in a great moral being, Aljira. He is conceived as a very large, strong 
man, with red skin and light hair which falls on his shoulders. His legs 
are like those of an emu. He is decorated with a white forehead-band, a 
neck-band, and a bracelet, and he wears a hair loin-girdle. His many 
wives, the Beautiful Ones, also red in complexion, have dogs' legs. Of 
his many sons and daughters, the former have emu legs, the latter dogs' 
legs. Handsome men and beautiful women frequent his neighbourhood. 

Aljira never dies. He lives in heaven, which has existed from the be 
ginning. The Milky Way is a great river with inexhaustible reservoirs of 
sweet water; tall trees, tasty berries, and fruits abound here. Great flocks 
of birds enliven Aljira's domain and different animals, such as kangaroos 
and wild-cats, seek his enormous hunting grounds. While Aljira follows 
the game, his wives gather edible herbs and other fruits which grow in 
abundance at all seasons. The stars are the camp-fires of Aljira. 

Aljira is the supreme deity of the Aranda, known by men as well as 
women, but his reign is restricted to heaven. He is not the creator of man, 
nor is he concerned about him. No churinga sacred stone or wooden 
slab are consecrated to him. The Aranda do not fear him nor do they 
like him, but they do fear that some day the heaven, which rests upon 
piles or stone legs, will collapse and kill them all. 13 

What Strehlow says about Aljira agrees closely with the accounts 
about the All-Fathers of Southeast Australia collected by Howitt. 

Thus the Narrinyeri believe in a supreme being who is said to have 
made all things on earth, to have given man his weapons and taught him 
ceremonies. When asked about the origin of a custom, they reply that 
the supreme being has instituted it. The Wotjobaluk, as well as the Kulin, 
speak of Bunjil, who is represented as an old man. He is the heavenly 
head-man of the tribe, and has two wives and a son, the Rainbow, whose 
wife is the Little Rainbow, the faint duplicate of the rainbow sometimes 
visible in the sky. He has given the Kulin their art, and according to at 
least one legend, he instituted the phratries and originated the law of 

13 This account of Aljira is based on C. Strehlow, The Aranda and Loritja Tribes 
of Central Australia (in German), Part I. 


exogamy. Howitt stresses the fact that among these tribes the All-Father 
is endowed with distinctly human, rather than animal, traits. 

Among the Kurnai, knowledge about a supreme being is almost en 
tirely restricted to the initiated men, although the older women know at 
least of the existence of this being. The novices are initiated into the 
mysteries of the All-Father lore at the last and most sacred session of 
the initiation ceremonies. At this time they learn that long ago he lived 
on earth and taught the Kurnai how to make implements, nets, canoes, and 
weapons. The individual names which the people inherit from their an 
cestors were first bestowed by the supreme being. He also established the 
secret rituals. When someone revealed these ritualistic secrets to the 
women, the supreme being was full of wrath. In revenge he sent down his 
fire, the Aurora Australis, which filled the whole space between the sky 
and the earth. Men went mad with fear, brothers killing brothers, fathers 
their children, and husbands their wives. Then the sea rushed over the 
land and almost all mankind was drowned. Some of those who survived 
became the ancestors of the Kurnai, while others turned into animals, 
birds, reptiles, and fish. Tun Sun, son of the supreme being, and Sun's 
wife, became turtles. Then the supreme being left the earth and ascended 
to the sky, where he still resides. 

All the tribes which attend the kuringal ceremonies of the Yuin people 
believe in a great being, Dara-Mulun, who once lived on earth with his 
mother. At first the earth was bare and, 'like the sky, as hard as a stone.' 
Land extended to where the sea is now. There were as yet no men or 
women, but only animals, birds, and reptiles. Dara-Mulun made the trees. 
Then he caused a great flood which covered the entire coast country, so 
that no people were left except some who crawled out of the water onto 
Mount Dromedary. Then Dara-Mulun ascended to the sky where he still 
lives, watching the actions of men. He made the bull-roarer a churinga 
which, when swung around on a string, makes a noise remotely resem 
bling the roaring of a bullthe sound of which is still believed to be 
his voice. He also gave the Yuin their laws, which ever since have been 
handed down by the old men. When men die and their spirits leave them, 
Dara-Mulun is there to meet them and take care of them. 

Upon first analysis, these beliefs strongly suggest the possibility of 
missionary influence. The flood, its relation to the animal kingdom, the 
escape of some humans to a mountain, the moral character of the supreme 
being, and other traits strongly suggest the influence of White teachers. 
The problem, however, cannot be settled so easily. We cannot be sure 
what savages might think until we find them thinking it. Beliefs in a su- 


preme being, more or less similar to those described, also occur among 
some of the Negro peoples of the Gold Coast of West Africa, and cognate 
notions seem to be present in North America and northeastern Siberia. 
'Our Woman' of the Bella Coola, and Katonda, the creator and 'father of 
the gods' among the African Baganda, clearly belong to the same category 
of divine beings. It is especially notable that the supreme being is often 
conceived as remote and detached from the affairs of men, although in 
some instances he is believed to have created them. These two attributes, 
the fact that the supreme being does not now actively participate in the 
affairs of men, and the further fact that he is superior to other deities, 
are the most consistently recurring ideas with reference to the All- 

I shall cite two further instances of a somewhat different type. 'Among 
the Kagaba [Colombia, South America],' writes Radin, 4 we encounter a 
female supreme deity and a profession of faith that should satisfy even 
the most exacting monotheist 14 

4 "The mother of our songs, the mother of all our seed, bore us in the 
beginning of things and she is the mother of all types of men, the mother 
of all nations. She is the mother of the thunder, the mother of the streams, 
the mother of trees and of all things. She is the mother of the world and 
of the older brothers, the stone-people. She is the mother of our younger 
brothers, the French, and the strangers. She is the mother of our dance 
paraphernalia, of all our temples and she is the only mother we possess. 
She alone is the mother of the fire and the Sun and the Milky Way. She 
is the mother of the rain and the only mother we possess. And she has 
left us a token in all the temples, a token in the form of songs and 

She has no cult, and no prayers are really directed to her, but when 
the fields are sown and the priests chant their incantations, the Kagaba 
say, "And then we think of the one and only mother of the growing 
things, of the mother of all things." One prayer was recorded. "Our 
mother of the growing fields, our mother of the streams, will have pity 

14 The problem of the All-Father should not be confused with that of early 
monotheism. A critical discussion of the problem was first undertaken by Andrew 
Lang in his The Making of Religion (now 'dated' and out of print), while a 
systematic review of all relevant data and theories will be found in Father Schmidt's 
work, The Origin of the Idea of God (in German). In all the instances cited in 
the text and the same is true in many other cases the All-Father, it will be 
observed, was not by any means the only supernatural being or deity. Thus the 
generalization of Father Schmidt with reference to the original monotheism of the 
pygmies (cf. his work The Pygmy Tribes, in German) must be placed on a dis 
tinct level from the discussions of the All-Father. 


upon us. For to whom do we belong? Whose seeds are we? To our mother 
alone do we belong." ' 15 

'I refer to the very marked monotheism of the Amazulus of South Af 
rica as described by Bishop Callaway,' writes Radin in his book. * "Un 
kulunkulu," so their creation-account runs, "is no longer known (i.e., no 
memory of him exists) . It is he who was the first being; he broke off in 
the beginning (i.e., sprang from something) . We do not know his wife 
and the ancients do not tell us that he had a wife. Unkulunkulu gave men 
the spirits of the dead ; he gave them doctors for treating disease, and 
diviners. The old men say Unkulunkulu is (i.e., was a reality) ; he made 
the first men, the ancients of long ago." 

There are a number of suggestive features about this Unkulunkulu. 
The name itself means the "old-old one," and his other designations im 
ply priority and potential source of existence. But what is his relation to 
mankind? There the versions differ, some regarding him as having cre 
ated men, others as having begotten them. It is likewise quite difficult to 
decide often whether he is regarded as the direct ancestor of man or as a 
true creator. What has happened seems clear. The Amazulus are ancestor- 
worshippers, worship the spirits of the departed, and this has influenced 
their conception of the supreme being to the extent of transforming him 
into the mythical ancestor of his race. Something of the irresponsible 
Transformer still clings to him at times as the following story indicates. 
He sends a chameleon to say, "Let not men die," but the chameleon 
lingers along the road and he then dispatches a lizard to say, "Let men 
die." Thus it is that death came into the world. But such traits are un 
important. When, indeed, it is recalled that the spirit of the deceased 
ancestor is predominantly evil and has to be propitiated, the fact that the 
partial transformation of Unkulunkulu into an ancestor has in no way 
affected his ethical and benevolent activities lends additional corrobora- 
tion to the well-nigh universal moral nature of the supreme being among 
primitive peoples. Whatever else may happen, his ethical nature appar 
ently can in no way be contaminated/ 16 

In concluding this sketchy presentation of the All-Father idea I cannot 

15 T. K. Preuss, Religion and Mythology of the Uitoto (in German), vol. I, p. 
170. Unfortunately Preuss's book -was not accessible to me at the time of this 
writing. I am therefore reproducing the above passage from Paul Kaolin's hook, 
Primitive Man as a Philosopher, pp. 357-558. (Reprinted hy permission of D. 
Appleton-Century Company.) 

16 Bishop Callaway, The Religious System of the Amazulu, pp. 1 seq. This hook 
also was not available to me, and I once more reproduce Radin's statement on 
pp. 351-353 (loc. cit.) . Note that Radin does not always differentiate between the 
idea of a supreme being and monotheism. 


do better than quote once more from Radin's conclusion in his pro 
vocative book. In my judgment this anthropologist has thought more 
deeply on this difficult topic than anyone else. This is what he writes : 

'If we are right in assuming the same more or less fixed distribution of 
ability and temperament in every group of approximately the same size, 
it would follow that no type has ever been totally absent. I feel quite con 
vinced that the idealist and the materialist, the dreamer and the realist, 
the introspective and the nonintrospectrve man have always been with us. 
And the same would hold for the different grades of religious tempera 
ment, the devoutly religious, the intermittently, the indifferently religious 
man. If individuals with specific temperaments, for instance the religious- 
aesthetic, have always existed we should expect to find them expressing 
themselves in much the same way at all times. And this, it seems to me, 
is exactly what we do find. The pagan polytheistic religions are replete 
with instances of men poets, philosophers, priests who have given ut 
terance to definitely monotheistic beliefs. It is the characteristic of such 
individuals, I contend, always to picture the world as a unified whole, 
always to postulate some first cause. No evolution from animism to mono 
theism was ever necessary in their case. What was required were individ 
uals of a certain type. Alongside of them and vastly in the majority have 
always been found others with a temperament fundamentally distinct, 
to whom the world has never appeared as a unified whole and, who have 
never evinced any marked curiosity as to its origin. 

*Such, too, is the situation among primitive peoples. If anything, the 
opposition of the two types is much clearer. All the monotheists, it is my 
claim, have sprung from the ranks of the eminently religious individuals. 
Its precise formulation is due to those specifically religious individuals 
who happen to be thinkers at the same time. It is in the ritualistic version 
of the original myth, for example, that Earthmaker 17 is depicted as a su 
preme deity who definitely creates the other deities and the culture- 
heroes; it is in the ritualistic version of the culture-hero cycle again that 
a nonmoral, buffoon-like hero, whose acts are only incidentally benefi 
cial to mankind, is transformed into an ethical, intelligent, beneficent 
creator. No other explanation for the characteristics of the supreme dei 
ties, as I have attempted to sketch them, is indeed conceivable except upon 
the assumption that they reflect a definite type of temperament, examples 
of which we know actually exist in every primitive group. Such people 
are admittedly few in number, for the overwhelming mass belong to the 
indifferently religious group, are materialists, realists, to whom a god, 

17 God-Creator of the Winnebago, among whom Radin has spent many years of 
fruitful research. 


be he supreme deity or not, is simply to be regarded as a source of power. 
If men of this type accept such a god, he is immediately equated with the 
more concrete deities who enter into direct relations with man, and as 
a result contamination ensues. It is thus that that particular type of crea 
tor arose, where a marked admixture of attributes belonging to the culture- 
hero and transformer was manifest. 

'On such a hypothesis a really satisfactory explanation of the existence 
and of the dominant traits of the monotheism among primitive peoples 
can be given. Monotheism would then have to be taken as fundamentally 
an intellectual-religious expression of a very special type of temperament 
and emotion. Hence the absence of cults, for instance, the unapproacha- 
bility of the supreme being, his vagueness of outline, and his essential 
lack of function. Whatever dynamic force he possesses for the community 
is that with which the realists invested him. In so doing they frequently 
converted him into a cult deity, into a creator of gods; made him but 
one amorig many. This is merely monolatry if you wish, but this in no 
way detracts from the possibility that the faith of the religious man him 
self may have been different, may have been essentially explicit mono 
theism. Yet even if we should not care to press this claim, the existence 
of monolatry and implicit monotheism must constitute a definite chal 
lenge to the views still current as to the development of the concept of a 
supreme creator.' 1S 

By way of comment on this passage, I might add that, though it suffers 
from the confusion of monotheism with the notion of a supreme but not 
sole deity, the idea of connecting kinds of religious orientation with 
types of temperament seems to me a capital one. Also, it chimes well 
with what in recent years we have come to know about individual varia 
bility among primitives. 


Another concept and institution, religious in essence and more im 
pressive in its sweep than almost any other aspect of primitive culture, is 
taboo. In the notion of taboo the polarity or ambivalence of religion 
comes to the fore. It represents a merging of the notion of sacredness with 
that of uncleanness, and with this goes the further trait of infectious- 
ness. A tabooed thing, animal, or person may not be handled, killed, 
eaten, spoken to, or if it is, can be so dealt with only under certain spe 
cially defined conditions. It has the tendency to radiate its holy but dan 
gerous essence, its tabooness as it were, to surrounding things and persons 

18 Radin, op. cfo, pp. 365-367. 


which in consequence may also become taboo, at least for a time. It is 
for this reason that rites exist among most primitive tribes for the removal 
of taboo. What has been rendered sacred or unclean by a proscribed act 
or even an accidental association with a thing tabooed, can once more be 
drawn into the realm of normal things if certain rites are performed. 

Among the most common taboos, found practically everywhere, are 
certain food prohibitions which become associated with people of a cer 
tain age, status, or condition, for example with young boys or girls be 
fore a certain age is reached, or with women during pregnancy, the 
menstrual period, or after childbirth, or with hunters and warriors be 
fore the chase or a war raid, or with individuals in search of a religious 
experience, like the Indian youth during the period preceding the 
guardian-spirit vision. Exalted persons, such as chiefs, are often taboo 
by dint of their high status. 

The notion of taboo in its varied ramifications will become clearer 
when illustrated by concrete examples taken from different areas. One 
of the most widespread applications of taboo is in connection with to- 
temic tribes (see p. 324), where the sacred animal, bird, or plant may 
not be killed or eaten by the members of a sib with whom it is in one 
or another way associated. Among the Australians this prohibition is 
universal. No Australian is permitted to partake of or kill his taboo crea 
ture, and if such instances do occur, it is in a special ceremonial setting 
and under strictly prescribed conditions such as those of the magical 
mtichiuma ceremonies (see p. 324) . 

Not all food restrictions, however, are associated with totemism, even 
where it exists. In Australia, for example, where the totemic taboo, as 
stated, is universal, there are also numerous other eating restrictions. In 
the Kakadu tribe, for example, a boy after one of the initiation rites finds 
himself greatly hampered in his choice of foods. From now on and for 
some time to come he is forbidden to eat a variety of yams, the goanna 
lizard, a variety of snakes, flying fox, the female opossum, emu, white 
crane, female turtle, and about twice as many more animals and birds. 
These prohibitions are so comprehensive that the things that the poor 
fellow may partake of also require to be specified, and so they are. Among 
the same tribe, if a dog catches a goanna lizard, no boy or young man 
may eat it; if he were to do so, he would be seized with severe pains in 
the back and his fingers would rot away. This last feature, namely the 
automatic magical penalty for the transgression of a taboo, is character 
istic of that institution and vouchsafes its supernatural character. The 
transgression of a taboo thus appears not merely as a social offence but 
as a sacrilege, and the penalization is therefore administered through 


supernatural channels. In the case of the boy and the goanna, as in other 
such cases, the consequences of a transgression of a taboo can be re 
moved by means of certain prescribed techniques. An old man takes the 
bones of a goanna caught by a dog. He powders them up and mixes them 
with a substance of a certain yam, also powdered. Of this concoction the 
young man must partake, whereupon the taboo is removed. 

Similarly, women during childbirth or in pregnancy are forbidden 
to eat a variety of birds and snakes, as well as certain plants. In this case 
the penalty for infraction is visited upon the child. If a pregnant mother 
partakes of the forbidden spur-winged plover, the child is born with 
sores under its arms; if she partakes of the flying fox, the child will 
have sore feet and tongue; if she eats a jungle-fowl, a spirit will take 
the child away and bury it in the mountain nest of a jungle-bird. If the 
mother eats a rock-snake, the navel string will become twisted around the 
child and it will die in the womb. During this same period the woman 
must not eat anything that is cooked in an oven. The native oven con 
sists of a hole in the ground lined with stones, previously heated on a 
fire; the food is placed on the stones, covered with paper bark or leaves, 
and cooked, under an additional covering of earth. It is food thus pre 
pared that the woman may not touch ; anything she eats must be cooked 
on an ordinary fire above the ground. Even after the child is born and 
while it is still young, the mother must submit to further restrictions. 
She may not drink out of a deep water-hole, having been warned by her 
husband that if she does so the child will die. Nor may she eat fish out 
of a deep water -hole: if a child were to see its mother drinking out of 
a deep water-hole, its spirit would leave the body, run to the water-hole, 
and drown or be swallowed up by a certain snake. Still, as in other cases, 
there is a way out. Should the mother by any chance break this rule, 
father, mother, and child, accompanied by a medicine-man, go to the 
water-hole. The father gives the mother a little water in a bark basket. 
The spirit of the child is thus induced to come up and is caught by the 
medicine-man, who alone is able to see it. He places the spirit in the 
mother's head from which it descends into her breast; the child, which 
is at once put to the breast, drinks in its spirit with the mother's milk 
and is thus saved for the living, 19 a simple and salutary process. 

Anything out of the ordinary is likely to be dangerous and fenced in 
by taboos, for example, the dead or any things or actions connected with 
them. Thus we find among the Salish-speaking tribes of British Columbia 
that after the death of a person his or her name may not be used, some- 

19 Spencer and Gillen, Native Tribes of the Northern Territory of Australia, 
pp. 342 seq. 


times for as long as a year. Not only this, but any other word of which 
the name may be a constituent part, is also excluded from use. To illus 
trate this in English: it is as if after the death of Mary, the name itself, 
as well as the words 'marriage,' 'mariner,' 'marionette, 5 were to be ex 
cluded from use for a year. 

In certain instances such prohibitions seem curiously artificial, per 
haps only on account of our ignorance of their origin. Thus, among the 
Siouan Omaha of the Plains, who are divided into gentes with animal 
and bird totems, the Eagle people are not allowed to touch a buffalo 
head; the people of a certain sub-gens, the name of which may be trans 
lated as To-carry-a-turtle-on-one's-back, 5 are allowed to touch or carry 
a turtle but not to eat it; in the Buffalo Tail gens, the Keepers -of -the-Pipe 
do not eat the lowest buffalo rib, while the Keepers-of-the-Sweet-Medicine 
may not touch any calves; and so on and on. 

In Polynesia the institution of taboo has reached an unusual degree 
of development and importance. It applies to many things but to none 
more emphatically than to the person and acts of an hereditary chief 
tain. Beyond all other things, he is taboo, as the embodiment of the di 
vine and the instrument of the mana or supernatural power of his divine 
ancestors. Thus he is doomed to be fenced about with numerous taboos 
designed to protect him and through him his ancestors from any dis 
grace and consequent loss of mana. The head of every person here is 
taboo, especially so the head of a chief, for it is there that his mana 
is believed to be concentrated. The height of disgrace in Polynesia is 
to touch a chief's head or to pass something common or unclean over 
it, or to insult it by comparing it to a profane thing. This is so serious 
an offence that wars, in certain instances, have been known to break 
out for no other reason than the commission of such an act. And here 
as always, the taboo radiates from the chief to all things with which he 
comes in contact, such as clothing, houses, personal possessions, canoes, 
land, his food, and all vessels or processes associated with its prepara 
tion and consumption. 

A taboo was imposed upon whole communities on important occasions 
such as birth, marriage, the sickness or death of a chief, religious festi 
vals, war, fishing expeditions. On such occasions all members of the 
tribe were subjected to a taboo on all common everyday activities. 
Those not actively engaged in the particular enterprise involved were 
yet passively parts of it by engaging in no other activity. All noise was 
forbidden, people were restrained from moving about, no fires were 
lighted, and no food prepared or eaten. New objects or first fruits were 
subject to a taboo: a crop about to be harvested, food recently collected 


and ready for consumption, a catch of fish, were taboo, until a small 
proportion had been offered to the gods whose mana had been utilized 
in the enterprise. This offering of first fruits to the gods 'raised' the taboo 
and set the stuffs free (noa) for general consumption. 

Another kind of Polynesian taboos, sometimes distinguished as rahui, 
were arbitrary prohibitions instituted by chiefs or other proprietors of 
trees, lands, or fishing grounds, for the purpose of keeping away tres 
passers or reserving the food supply for some particular occasion. When 
a chief was imposing a rahui on a crop or a kind of fish, he would do 
so by calling upon the priest to invoke the support of the gods, promis 
ing them a share of the food when it was harvested. In New Zealand a 
chief who desired to place a rahui upon a piece of land or a stream could 
do so by erecting a post and hanging a piece of cloth upon it, while 
uttering a curse against trespassers. Among the Marquesans the same 
effect could be achieved by the chief giving the land his own name or 
calling it his head. As among the Australian Kakadu, we find among 
the natives of Tahiti that a pregnant woman who insists on partaking 
of forbidden food endangers her child. Handy tells of a boy who had 
claw-like hands as a result of the fact that his mother when pregnant 
partook of some crab meat. Club-feet, mottled skin, and other deformi 
ties were similarly accounted for. 20 

In the economic life and ideas of the Maori the influence of taboo 
was all-pervasive. Forests, for example, were believed to stand under 
the guardianship of the god Tane, who protected the trees, rats, birds, 
and all woodland products from unauthorized interference. A taboo lay 
upon them. Hence Tane had to he placated and the taboo raised before 
a Maori would venture to put any of these things to his own use. We 
find among the Maori a whole series of whakanoa rites, ceremonies 
devised to make sacred or forbidden things 'common,' before they could 
be made available for ordinary use. Thus, the erection of a carved meet 
ing house was surrounded by much taboo. While the work was in progress 
only authorized persons, such as the priest and the builders, were allowed 
within. No food could be taken inside nor could the chips and shavings 
from the timber be used for cooking food or for any ordinary purpose. 
When the building was finally completed, there was no further necessity 
for stringent taboo; however, it still clung to the completed structure 
and had to be removed by special ceremony, which finally freed the 
finished house from any taboo restrictions and made it available for 
common use. 

The concept and nature of taboo, as operative among the Maori, is 

20 E. S. Craighill Handy, Polynesian Religion, pp. 43 seq. 


best understood by associating it with the correlated notion of a non- 
material core or 'life-principle' (mauri) which was connected with all 
things in nature and gave them their vitality, in fact their very existence. 
In the case of a forest, for example, its fertility and productive power 
depended upon its mauri. The fruiting of trees, the abundance of birds 
and rats, all hinged upon the preservation of their mauri intact. The 
same applied to fisheries. Firth correctly notes that this mauri was an 
intangible and imponderable essence, impersonal in character. It should 
not be confused with the notion of an indwelling spirit. In the various 
economic undertakings of their daily life the Maori, while using the 
resources provided by their environment, were careful not to interfere 
with the mauri of these things, thus contaminating them. Hence the taboo 
regulations. A system of protective magic was instituted. This was made 
possible or more readily workable for the reason that the mauri of a 
thing could be isolated from its normal physical base and localized in 
a particular spot or a small material object, such as a stone. This could 
easily be hidden away in some obscure spot where it would be safe from 
prying eyes, thus ensuring the life principle and productive powers of 
the forest. 21 The term applied to such a material depository of the life 
power of something else being also mauri, one should be forewarned 
against confusion in interpretation. The mauri stone is generally con 
cealed at the base of a tree, buried in the ground or sunk in the bed of a 
stream. 22 

In addition to these relatively passive measures for the protection of 
natural resources, more active ones were taken on occasion, which con 
sisted in the setting up of a rahui. The procedure was, in brief, like this. 
A post, termed rahui, was set up in the ground on the edge of a forest, 
the bank of a stream, or other spot which was to be protected. To this 
post was attached a maro 9 consisting of a lock of hair or a bunch of grass. 

21 Raymond Firth, Primitive Economics of the New Zealand Maori, pp. 234 seq. 
Aptly enough. Firth here refers to the well-known Russian fairy-tale in which a 
giant hides his life or soul in an egg which he carefully conceals; thence he is 
impervious to bodily assault and continues on his cheerful and wicked course, 
until one day the egg is found and broken. Thereupon the giant perishes. 

22 The mauri of the fisheries of the Mokau River reposes in a large hour-glass- 
shaped stone (perhaps of great antiquity, as according to tradition it had been 
the anchor of the ancestral canoe, Tainui). This stone was once carried away by 
a European, but had to be restored by the government at the natives' earnest re 
quest, the latter claiming that their fish had deserted the river. 'Recently,' con 
tinues Firth, 'hearing that it was proposed to remove the stone for safe keeping 
at a museum, the local natives assembled, dug it out from its resting place in the 
sands of the river, and concealed it, subsequently revealing it again to the public 
view by imbedding it in a concrete base for protection. They feared lest again the 
"rock" of the fishing grounds depart.' (Ibid., p. 246, note 1.) 


Then a priest proceeded by means of magical incantations to 'sharpen 
the teeth of the rahui, that it might destroy man.' To overcome the pro 
tective power of the rahui, counter-devices, also magical, were known, 
which an ill-wishing intruder might employ to neutralize the power of 
the rahui. Whereupon he might use his spell to hurt the fertility of the 
forest. Such an eventuality was, in fact, foreseen and measures were 
taken against it: a false maro was attached to the post, whereas the real 
one impregnated with the destructive magic against an intruder, as well 
as the rahui stone, were concealed. As a consequence, the misled in 
truder, when he tried to direct his arts against the rahui post, would fail 
to neutralize its magic: on the contrary, it was still there and would 
work to his destruction should he attempt to meddle with the mauri of 
the forest. 

The infringement of a rahui, as will be seen, was a serious matter. 
When a rahui was equipped with a dangerous spell, a breach of it was 
believed to be punished automatically, the culprit being afflicted with 
a wasting disease. In case no spell had been performed over a rahui, 
its infringement was penalized by means of witchcraft exercised by the 
owners of the forest or fishery. When a rahui was imposed by a chief 
on behalf of his tribe, transgressors were slain in punishment. In some 
historical instances, hostilities between two tribes or hapu broke out 
on account of an infringement against a rahui. 

It will be clear from these instances of Maori taboo how close, on oc 
casion, can be the relationship between taboo and magic. It seems then 
that Marett knew well whereof he spoke when he referred to taboo as 
'negative magic.' 

Chapter XVI 

Chukchee Animism 

Like that of all primitives, the world view of the Chukchee is an ani 
mistic one. Every object here can act, speak, and walk. Everything that 
exists has its own 'Voice' or 'Master. 5 Reindeer skins have a Master of 
their own. In the night-time they turn into reindeer and walk to and fro. 
The very shadows on the walls live in tribes in their own country where 
they have huts and subsist by hunting. 

Interesting beliefs are entertained about Mushrooms and Mushroom- 
Men. Mushrooms, when they grow, are so powerful that they split whole 
trees. These Mushrooms appear to be intoxicated men in the shape of 
humans, resembling their real shapes in some particular. Thus one may 
have but one leg, another a very large head, and so on. The number of 
Mushrooms that appear to a man varies in accordance with the num 
ber of mushrooms he has eaten. The Mushroom-Men lead the dreamer 
through the world and show him real and imaginary things. They take 
him to places where the dead live, through which they travel along many 
intricate paths. 

Wooden amulets in a bag become Herdsmen and go out at night to 
protect the herd from wolves. Black and polar bears, eagles, small birds, 
sea mammals, all have countries of their own and live like humans. They 
can turn into human beings, while preserving some of their own qualities. 
Mice-People live in underground houses, using a certain root as their 
reindeer. They have sledges made of grass. Off and on, they become 
transformed into real hunters, with regular sledges, and hunt polar bears. 

According to one story, a dried skin of an ermine transformed itself 
into a real ermine, which later turned into a large polar bear. Boulders 
are regarded as petrified creatures. They represent the first attempt of 
the Creator to make man. As they were very clumsy, he transformed them 
into stones. After this, animals and men were created. 

Forests, rivers, and lakes have their own Masters; the same applies to 
various classes of animals and trees, which must thence be treated with 



circumspection. The only exception among trees is the birch, which men 
handle as their 'equal.' Sledges, shafts of spears, and the like are made 
of birch wood. Native sketches of spirits collected by Bogoras show that 
these resemble, to a degree, the animals to which they belong. Thus the 
Master of fish and of mountain brooks has a long thin body and a face 
covered with hair. The Master of the forest has a body of wood without 
arms or legs. His eyes are on the crown of his head and he rolls along 
like a log of wood. 1 

Pitchvutchin is an especially important Owner or Master of wild 
reindeer and of all land game. He lives in deep ravines, or stays near 
the forest border. When amiable, he sends reindeer to the hunters, but 
when he is angered, he withholds the supply. He is the guardian of all 
ancient customs and sacrifices connected with the hunt. Any neglect of 
these angers him. In size he is reported to be not larger than a man's 
finger, while his footprints on the snow are like those of a mouse. Ac 
cording to the beliefs of the Maritime Chukchee, Pitchvutchin has power 
over sea game also. At times one may see him passing the door of a house 
in the shape of a small black pup, but on inspection the footprints will 
prove like those of a mouse, revealing his identity. As soon as this is 
discovered, the people offer him a sacrifice, believing that in the follow 
ing year a large whale will drift to that part of the house. Pitchvutchin's 
sled is very small and made of grass. Instead of reindeer, he drives a 
mouse, or a certain small root. In fact, he himself is sometimes repre 
sented as the root driving a mouse. The lemming is his polar bear. He 
kills it and loads it on his sledge. On the other hand, he is believed to be 
very strong, can wrestle with giants, and upon occasion can load a real 
polar bear upon his sledge. He takes no solid food, living on odours. 

Three of spirits called J^eZgi are especially prominent in Chuk 
chee belief: evil spirits which, walking invisibly, carry disease and 
death and prey on human bodies and souls; blood-thirstv cannibals 
who live on distant shores and fight Chukchee warriors; ^rid spirits 
which are at the call of shamans and help them in their magic. 

Among spirits of the first variety are the Ground Spirits. They have 
the forms of different creatures, fish, dog, bird, fox, insect, but are very 

1 This has an interesting bearing on Spencer's theory that the spirits populating 
the world in the animistic age were, at least in origin, human spirits. This part of 
Spencer's theory? incidentally, was rejected by Tylor, who held that each order 
of creatures or things in nature had its own kind of spirits from the beginning. 
The Chukchee evidence supports Tylor's view. But there are, of course, numerous 
instances where the spirits of animals, plants, etc., are human spirits. It seems 
thus that hoth Tylor and Spencer were right in their individual versions of the 
theory, wrong in rejecting each other's versions. 


small. 2 In proportion to their size, they always have a very large mouth, 
set with many strong teeth. The kelet do not like to stay in their own 
villages. They prefer to visit human settlements, and are believed to be 
constantly wandering about in search of human prey. But they them 
selves live like human beings, and are considered a tribe like other tribes : 
they marry and have children, occupy villages and camps, and travel 
about the country with reindeer and dogs. Their young boys and girls 
go hunting and fishing, while the old men sit at home and try to read the 
future by the aid of divining stones. They always hunt man, whom they 
call 'Little Seal. 9 Their divining stone is a human skull, while men often 
use animal skulls for that purpose. 

If the kelet can catch a human soul, they chop it to pieces,. cook it in 
a kettle and feed it to their children. The kelet and the shamans are 
hostile to each other. In their encounters, victory does not always rest 
with the kelet. Animals of peculiar form are sacrificed to the kelet, such 
as reindeer with unusual antlers, white reindeer with black ear-points, 
or new-born fauns with misshapen mouths. Natural death is unknown 
to the Chukchee. When a man dies, he is supposed to have been killed by 
a spirit, or by the charm of an evil shaman. 

The second variety of supernatural creatures are the Giants, who live 
on earth but far removed from human habitation. They are always repre 
sented as very poor, They can be fought with ordinary means. 

The third variety of spirits are those appearing to shamans. At shaman- 
istic performances, they usually figure as the 'spirit-voices' of the shaman 
produced by the latter by means of ventriloquism. Shamanistic spirits 
may appear as wolves, reindeer, walrus, whales, birds, plants, icebergs, 
utensils, pots, needles, and needle-cases. The shamanistic spirits are very 
mean to the shaman in case he commits any irregularities, but if his be 
haviour is unobjectionable, they are always at his call. Also, these spirits 
seem to engage in constant quarrels with each other, and then the shaman 
plays the conciliator. 

The Chukchee personify the 'directions' of the compass, of which 
they recognize twenty-two, including the Zenith and the Nadir. Of these 
the Mid-Day and the Dawn are the most important and to them most of 
the sacrifices are made. 

The sun, moon, and stars are also conceived as men of different kinds. 

The Chukchee believe in a number of indefinite beings whose char 
acter and shape remain vague. Among these are the Creator, the Upper 

2 The diminutive character of many of the Chukchee spirits is paralleled by a 
similar trait of some Northwest Coast spirits. Why this should be so, is, as so often, 
not easy to see. 


Being, the World, the Merciful Being, the Life-Giving Being, and the 
Luck-Giving Being. 3 

The Zenith, Mid-Day, and Dawn are often represented as identical 
with the creator of the world. Among the baptized Chukchee, the Christian 
God has a place assigned to him side-by-side with these vague superior 

A special group of spirits are the House Spirits. They are regarded 
as permanently associated with the house, their very names being derived 
from a stem meaning 'absence of motion.' These spirits live like the 
Chukchee themselves. They stay in pairs and have children. Their chil 
dren get sick and die. When a spirit child dies, the spirit may make 
friends with another spirit and allow it to have relations with his wife, a 
custom current among the Chukchee. 

Among the many charms of the Chukchee those of the household are 
of special interest, and among these, particularly, the hearth itself. 
Bogoras's statement on this subject deserves to be quoted verbatim: 'The 
chief place among the sacred things of the household belongs to the 
hearth itself. At every ceremonial, the hearth-fire is fed by a new spark 
from each of the hereditary fire-tools. Each family has a fire of its own 
and interchange of fires is strictly prohibited. Families whose fires are 
derived from different lines of ancestors, even though they may be living 
for years in one camp, will carefully guard against any contact with 
their fires. To borrow a neighbour's fire is held to be one of the greatest 
of sins. If a camp is pitched on a spot formerly occupied by another 
family, the Chukchee woman, in order to start a new fire, will not avail 
herself of the coal or wood that was left. Even when encamped on the 
treeless tundra, she will break up the sledges for firewood rather than 
take a single splinter bearing marks of an alien fire. Interchange of house 
hold utensils connected with the hearth like kettles, dishes, lamps, re 
ceptacles for meat, etc. is also strictly forbidden. It is even considered 
sinful to warm at one hearth a piece of cold meat which has been boiled 
at another. All these restrictions, however, refer only to the "genuine 
fire," obtained for a native hearth by means of a wooden drill and the 
sacred fire board.' 

3 Bogoras believes that these vague deities represent an indefinite transforma 
tion of the creative principle of the -world and may he compared to the mcmitou 
or wakan of the American Indians. On the basis of Bogoras's own statement ahout 
these beings, this analogy seems doubtful. The talented author's opinion is ad 
duced here for what it may be worth. It may be noted in passing that while 
Bogoras has few peers as an observer, his interpretations, mostly omitted here, 
are often arbitrary. The data on Chukchee animism are taken from W. Bogoras, 
The Chukchee, I: 'Religion' (Jesup North Pacific Expedition, vol. VII). 


The Guardian Spirit in American Indian Religion 

Of all religious phenomena in North America, the most general as 
well as varied are the beliefs and practices centring in the cult of the 
guardian spirit. In essence, these cults are rooted in a faith in super 
natural power, personal or impersonal. 

To acquire a guardian spirit is the Indian's most sacred quest. When 
a boy approaches maturity, when 'his voice begins to change,' he re 
pairs to the woods, where he builds for himself a crude hut or tent. Here 
he lives in isolation, takes frequent purgatives and eats sparingly. His 
thoughts are bent on the supernatural experience he is about to face. 
When he has reached a high state of purity, physically and spiritually 
(*so the spirits can look through him, 5 says the Indian), the desire of 
his soul is realized: the guardian spirit appears to him in a dream or 
vision. The spirit may appear in animal, bird, or human shape, or it may 
be a monster creature told about in myth. The guardian spirit bestows 
upon the novice a supernatural gift or several such and, having given 
him advice as to a proper life to lead, disappears. Henceforth, the youth 
stands in an intimate personal relation to the spirit, appeals to it for 
protection, and is warned by it when danger impends. If the spirit is an 
animal or bird, the youth may have to abstain from eating or killing 
individuals of that species; this taboo, however, is not found in all Indian 
tribes. 4 

This generalized representation of the guardian-spirit quest does scant 
justice to this central cult of the North American Indians and its many 
cultural ramifications. It may be of interest, therefore, to dwell some 
what more fully on the particular forms assumed by the guardian-spirit 
cult among several representative tribal groups. 

The southern Kwakiutl of the Northwest Coast are divided into a large 
number of clans, each of which traces its origin to a mythical ancestor 
whose adventures are connected with the crests and privileges of the 
clan. In the course of his adventures, the ancestor meets the sacred crea 
ture of the clan and obtains from it supernatural powers and magical 

4 A suggestive account of the acquisition of a guardian spirit is found in Paul 
Radin's 4 An Autobiography of a Winnebago Indian,* Journal of American Folk- 
Lore, 1913. In this case, the supernatural protector is the Earth Spirit, with whom 
the somewhat sophisticated Indian repeatedly fails to enter into rapport. The 
entire account bears the stamp of genuineness and is particularly interesting as a 
portrayal of the transition between blind faith and mild scepticism characteristic 
of some modern Indians. For an excellent account of a highly elaborate and 
picturesque vision I want to refer to Black Elk Speaks, the life story of a *holy man' 
of the Ogalala Sioux, as told to John G. Neihardt, pp. 20-47 ("The Great Vision'). 
Unfortunately the account is too long for reproduction here. 


objects, such as the magic harpoon which ensures success in sea-water 
hunting, the water of life which resuscitates the dead, and the like. He 
also receives a dance, a song, a distinctive cry each spirit having a 
cry of its own and the right to use certain carvings. The dance con 
sists of a dramatization of the myth in which the ancestor acquires gifts 
from the spirit. Some of these spirits are animals, such as the bear, wolf, 
sea-lion, killer-whale; others are fabulous monsters. To the latter class 
belongs Sisiutl, a mythical double-headed snake which often assumes 
the shape of a fish. To eat or even see it means death: all joints of the 
culprit become dislocated and his head is turned backwards. Another 
monster is the cannibal-woman, Dzonoqwa. Both Sisiutl and Dzonoqwa 
are dangerous when hostile, but when their goodwill is assured they 
become useful, and the powers they bestow are greatly sought after. 

Among the Kwakiutl all these spirits with their gifts tend to become 
hereditary clan privileges. In some instances an individual may transmit 
some of these valuable possessions to his own descendants; but more 
often a set of guardian spirits with their gifts are hereditary in a clan, 
and all individuals of the clan may obtain supernatural powers from 
these spirits. Some spirits appear only in the ancestral tradition, others 
may still be obtained by Kwakiutl youths. Prominent among spirits of 
the latter class is Making- War- all- over-the-Earth. With the assistance of 
this spirit, a youth may obtain three different powers: mastery over the 
Sisiutl, the capacity to catch the invisible Dream Spirits, and insensi 
bility to pain and wounds. With the assistance of The-First-One-to-Eat- 
Man-at-the-Mouth-of-the-River, another spirit, nine powers may be ob 
tained. The spirit Maden is a bird and gives the faculty of flying. Various 
ghpst spirits bestow the power to return to life after having been killed. 
iThe spirits appear only in the winter, the season of the 'secrets.' Dur 
ing the winter ceremonial, the people are divided into two main bodies: 
the initiated ('Seals') and the uninitiated ('Sparrows'). The latter are 
divided into groups consisting of individuals who expect to be initiated 
at about the same time. There are ten such groups or societies seven 
male and three female and most of them bear animal names. 

Throughout the ceremonies the two groups are hostile to each other. 
The Seals attack and torment the Sparrows, who try to reciprocate to 
the best of their ability. The object of a number of ceremonies performed 
by each society is to secure the return of the youth who has been taken 
away by the spirit protector of the society. When the novice finally re 
turns he is in a state of ecstasy, and other ceremonies are performed to 
restore him to his senses. 

Among the Haida the guardian-spirit idea finds its clearest expression 


in the beliefs about shamans. When a supernatural being takes posses 
sion of a man, speaking and acting through him, the man becomes a 
shaman. While thus possessed, the shaman loses his personal identity 
and becomes one with the spirit. He dresses as directed by the spirit 
and uses its language. Thus, if a supernatural being from the Tlingit 
country takes possession of a shaman, he speaks Tlingit, although other 
wise ignorant of that tongue. The personal name, also, is discarded, and 
that of the spirit substituted, and as the spirit changes, the name is also 

The Tlingit shamans were even more powerful than those of the Haida. 
Whereas the Haida shaman usually owns only one spirit and no masks, 
his Tlingit colleague can boast of several spirits and masks. The repre 
sentations of subsidiary spirits, to be seen on some masks, are expected 
to strengthen various faculties of the shaman. The shamans, as well as 
ordinary individuals, can increase their powers by obtaining the tongues 
of a variety of spirit animals, especially those of land-otters. These 
tongues are mixed with eagle claws and other articles and are carefully 
stored away. Shamans often perform merely for display, or, when de 
sirous of demonstrating their superior powers, they may engage in im 
aginary battles with other shamans many miles away. 

It will thus be seen how deeply the belief in guardian spirits has 
entered into the lives and thoughts of the people of British Columbia 
and southern Alaska. Reared on the fertile ground of an all-pervading 
animism, guardian spirits manifest themselves through the medium of 
many things and creatures. By means of art, the realm of magical poten 
tialities becomes further extended when the representation of a spirit 
protector is carved on an implement, weapon, or ceremonial object, the 
thing itself becomes a carrier of supernatural powers. Among the Kwa- 
kiutl, the guardian-spirit idea stands in the centre of a complex system 
of secret societies and initiation rites. With the approach of winter, the 
guardian spirit, like a ghost of the past, emerges from its summer re 
tirement and through the medium of names transforms the social organ 
ization of the people. 5 Among the Haida and Tlingit the belief in the 
magical powers of supernatural helpers has engendered a prolific growth 
of shamanistic practices. The Tsimshian, Haida, and Tlingit have woven 
the guardian spirit into their family and clan legends, the incidents of 
which receive dramatic embodiment in the dances of the secret societies. 

5 For details about this unique seasonal transformation of the Kwakiutl consult 
Franz Boas, The Secret Societies and Social Organization of the Kwakiutl Indians,' 
Proceedings, United States National Museum, 1895, from which study the details 
about Kwakiutl guardian spirits are gleaned. 


The guardian spirit also figures as a standard of rank. The vaster the 
powers of a supernatural guardian, the greater respect does its owner 
command, while the secret societies rank according to the powers of their 

In the Plateau area, the guardian-spirit phenomena have been studied 
with particular care among the Thompson River Indians, the Shuswap, 
and the Lillooet. Among the Thompson River Indians, every person 
acquired a guardian spirit at puberty. The spirits were not inherited, 
except in the case of a few powerful shamans. All animals and objects 
possessed of magical qualities could become guardian spirits. The 
powers of such spirits had become differentiated, so that certain kinds 
of spirits were associated with definite social or professional groups. The 
shamans had their favourite spirits, including natural phenomena (night, 
fog, east, west), man or parts of the human body (woman, young girl, 
hands or feet of man, etc.), animals (bat), objects referring to death 
(land of souls, ghosts, dead men's hair, bones and teeth, etc.). Warriors 
had their set of spirits, so did hunters, fishermen, gamblers, runners, 
women. Each person partook of the qualities of his or her guardian spirit. 
Among the spirits peculiar to shamans, parts of animals or objects were 
not uncommon, such as the tail of a snake, the nipple of a gun, the left 
or right side of anything, and the like. 6 Although the range of animals, 
natural phenomena, inanimate objects, which could become guardian 
spirits, embraced a large part of nature, certain animals lacked magic 
power and never figured as guardian spirits. 7 Such were the mouse, chip 
munk, squirrel, rat, and butterfly. Few birds and scarcely any trees or 
herbs ever functioned as spirit protectors. 

When the Shuswap lad began to dream of women, arrows, and canoes, 
or when his voice began to change, his time had arrived for craving and 
obtaining a guardian spirit. Similarly, the young men of the Lillooet 
acquired guardian spirits, and at the instigation of their elders, per 
formed guardian-spirit dances during which they imitated their super 
natural protectors in motion, gesture, and cry. In some of their clan 
dances masks were used, which sometimes referred to an incident in 
the clan myth. The dancer personified the ancestor himself or the guard 
ian spirit. Powerful spirits enabled the shaman to perform wonderful 
feats. Among the Lillooet weapons, implements, and other objects were 

6 Compare this variety of spirits with Frazer's 'split totems.' (Totemism and 
Exogamy, vol. IV.) 

7 In Australia, where the larger part of animal and hird nature is drawn upon 
for totemic service, there are certain animals and birds which, for one reason or 
another, never function in this capacity. 


often decorated with designs representing guardian spirits. Similar fig 
ures were painted or tattooed on face and body. 

Among these tribes, the common people were divided into societies. 
Membership in most of these was not strictly hereditary, while in others, 
such as the Black Bear, the hereditary character was more pronounced. 
Among the twenty-nine protectors of the society, twenty were animals, 
while the rest included plants, natural phenomena, inanimate objects, as 
well as hunger and famine. Some of these societies were regarded as 
closely related and the members of these were permitted to use each 
other's dances and songs; but as a rule each society claimed its own dis 
tinctive garments, ornaments, songs, and dances. 

Some of the ceremonies could be performed at any time, but the favour 
ite ceremonial season was the winter. During the dances the moose, cari 
bou, elk, deer, and other protective spirits were impersonated. The actors 
dressed in the skins of these animals, the scalp part hanging over their 
heads and faces. Some had antlers attached to the head and neck. The 
dancers went through all the actions of the animal impersonated, imitat 
ing the incidents in the fishing, hunting, snaring, chasing over lakes in 
canoes, and final capture or death of the animal. 

In the Plains area, the form assumed by the guardian-spirit experience 
is that of a transfer of a possession, material or spiritual, natural or super 
natural, from one owner to another. The transfer may be from man to 
man, or from a guardian spirit to a novice. The medium of transfer is 
usually a dream. The pattern of the entire procedure has become so 
highly standardized that students find it hard to distinguish between an 
original guardian-spirit acquisition and an account of a transfer of a 
spirit from individual to individual. What is peculiar here is the role 
played by the medicine-bundle. Having secured a vision, or dream, the 
initiate prepares a medicine-bundle, a bag made of otter skin, filled with 
various small articles, such as pieces of skin, small pebbles, quartz, 
or animal or vegetable matter (p. 208, note 1) . While the intrinsic value of 
these objects is nil, they acquire in this context the significance of charms 
carrying supernatural power. A medicine-bundle may thus be likened to 
an electric battery, charged with potential current, from which great 
quantities of dynamic force can be extracted at will. Contrary to the 
customs of the Plateau area but in line with those of the Northwest, 
medicine-bundles and even guardian spirits tend to become hereditary 
among some Plains tribes. It must be noted, however, that this process 
of hereditary transfer, when unaccompanied by a personal guardian- 
spirit experience, may not continue indefinitely without a consequent 
loss of power. It may go on for two generations, but at the third transfer 


the power gives out the dynamo must be recharged by personal contact 
with a supernatural source if it is to continue doing work along magical 

It is characteristic of the guardian-spirit cult in the Plains that the 
supernatural vision is sought, not at puberty, but by adults. In details, 
the cults differ greatly from tribe to tribe. 8 

Among the Winnebago, who in their guardian-spirit customs are a 
typical Plains tribe, there is one peculiarity in so far as the guardian 
spirits are conceived as being localized. These spirits, which may be 
designated as guardian prototypes or originals, reside in definite places, 
in a valley or mountain fastness, or behind a certain rock. 9 The guardian 
spirits which appear to the searchers for power are but reflections or 
spiritual representatives of these permanent reservoirs of magical po 
tency. There is striking resemblance between this conception and the 
ideas of the Chukchee and Koryak of northeastern Siberia, where a 
similar relationship obtains between the so-called supernatural Masters 
and their animal representatives on earth. 

Among the Iroquois, guardian spirits whether of animals, birds. or 
objects almost always appear in human form. This is in keeping with 
the highly anthropomorphic character of Iroquoian religion, mythology 

8 The following condensed statement of the local peculiarities of guardian-spirit 
cults in the Plains is abstracted from Ruth Benedict's The Concept of the Guardian 
Spirit in North America. 

The Arapaho use self-torture to induce the vision. All adult males seek it, and 
it depends wholly on the power given him at that time whether the suppliant he- 
comes a shaman or a warrior. The Dakota mark off the laity shamans fast once 
to ohtain a guardian spirit and have a vision of an elaborate nature; the laity, on 
the other hand, fast on every occasion, with extreme self-torture, the fast being 
not for the guardian spirit but for help from the Sun in some particular and im 
mediate undertaking. The Crow, again, require a guardian spirit as a part of the 
equipment of every ambitious man, and the suppliant becomes a 'child* of his 
vision-adopted 'father.' The formula of the procedure in this tribe is rigid and 

The Blackfoot use no torture except hunger and thirst to induce the vision. 
Here the pattern permits and almost demands that the vision be bought and sold. 
The Blackfoot make no distinction between the visions they have bought and those 
for which they have themselves fasted. To invest in other men's visions is a neces 
sary qualification for social prestige; the medicine-bundles, which are the visible 
insignia of possession, form the basis of their economic system. 

Among the Hidatsa the idea of inheritance was elaborated. They paid sufficient 
heed to the Blackfoot scheme to require that payment be made for all such in 
herited things. Also they behaved in accordance with general Plains theory in 
insisting that before inheriting one must see the vision. Hence, it became necessary 
for the head of a family to exercise supervision over the novice in order that the 
proper family spirit might appear to him. In spite of all this, however, the tribal 
pattern required that the medicine-bundle descend from father to son. 

8 Cf. p. 284, where a similar belief is reported among the African Baganda, 


and cosmology, A number of societies also occur here which are more 
or less clearly associated with supernatural protectors. 

The guardian-spirit beliefs of the North American Indians thus present 
an interesting illustration of a cultural feature, indigenous in an immense 
area and evidently of great antiquity, which in a multitude of forms and 
cultural associations appears in all the major areas and probably in 
every tribe of the vast continent. A possible exception are the Eskimo, 
but even here the spirit helpers of the angakut almost certainly belong 
to the same category of spirits, on a par with the spirit assistants, mes 
sengers, and the like of the shamans of northeastern Siberia. 

Guardian spirits are not unknown in Australia, and cognate beliefs 
have been described in some of the Island groups of Melanesia as well 
as in the Malay archipelago. In a wider sense, beliefs in guardian spirits 
or spirit protectors are common throughout Africa and among primitive 
tribes in general, but in North America alone have these beliefs with 
their associated practices entered into an extraordinary number of cul 
tural associations, thus affecting the personal religion, as well as the 
religious institutionalism, mythology, totemism, and even some aspects 
of the social organization of the Indians. It is in this sense that one might 
well speak of the guardian-spirit cults as one of the central features of 
the religion of the North American Indians. 

Chapter XVII 

Medicine-Men Among the Chukchee and Others 

Some family rituals of the Chukchee are in some respects like 
shamanism. Almost any Chukchee will from time to time sit down in 
jthe outer room with the family drum, and while drumming energetically 
will sing songs and perhaps even try to commune with spirits. In this 
sense it can be said that many people act as shamans. The real shaman- 
istic performances, however, always take place in the sleeping-room, 
at night, and in darkness. 

Shamans among the Chukchee are essentially 6 those with spirits.' Both 
men and women may be shamans. It is in fact probable that true 
shamanism is more common among women than among men, but the 
higher grades of shamanistic powers and performances are restricted 
to men. The bearing of children has a bad effect on shamanistic power. 
The same is true of anything in any way connected with birth, the evil 
influence extending both to men and to women. There is, however, one 
feature which is entirely beyond the reach of women shamans, and that 
is ventriloquism. 

True shamans among the Chukchee, as in northeastern Siberia gen 
erally, are people of a distinct psychic cast. 'The shamans among the 
Chukchee with whom I conversed,' writes Bogoras, 'were as a rule 
extremely excitable, almost hysterical, and not a few of them were half 
crazy. Their cunning resembled the cunning of a lunatic.* 

The future shaman may be discerned at an early age. His gaze is 
directed into space and his eyes are unusually bright, so bright, indeed, 
claim the people, that he can see spirits in the dark. During a shamanistic 
performance, the shaman is extremely sensitive ('bashful') . He is 
afraid of strange people and objects and shrinks from ridicule and 
criticism. The spirits themselves are also believed to be bashful 'unless 
the audience is such as to favour their appearance.' 1 

1 This setting should he compared with that of modern spiritualistic seances 
which, as a rule, take place in utter darkness, the major performer or medium 



Bogoras states, in agreement with his predecessors in Siberian eth 
nology, that this hypersensitiveness of the shaman is restricted neither 
to this class of magicians, nor to the Chukchee region, but is a psycho 
logical characteristic of this entire Siberian area. Even the Russian 
Creoles are not immune from it. Men of the latter class have been known 
to die when threatened, or when their death was foretold in a dream. 2 
While disharmony with the kelet may occasion the death of a shaman, 
he is otherwise regarded as Very tough.' Normally 'hard to kill,' then, 
a shaman is, under certain conditions, 'soft to die.' 

When the call to shamanism comes to a young boy, spirits appear 
to him. Strange objects lie across his path, of which he makes amulets, 
and the like. For a time he may resist the call, for persons do not usually 
want to become shamans. 3 When the youth finally becomes a shaman 
and has practised for a number of years, he may discard his art, without 
fear of angering the spirits. 

The 'gathering' of shama'nistic powers is a prolonged and laborious 
process* Tor men, the preparatory stage of shamanistic inspiration is 
in most cases very painful, and extends over a long time. The call 
comes in an abrupt and obscure manner, leaving the young novice in 
much uncertainty regarding it. He feels "bashful" and frightened; he 
doubts his own disposition and strength, as has been the case with all 
seers, from Moses down. Half unconsciously and half against his own 
will, his whole soul undergoes a strange and painful transformation. 
This period may last months, and sometimes even years. The young 
novice, the "newly inspired," loses all interest in the ordinary affairs of 
life. He ceases to work, takes little food and without relishing it, ceases 
to talk to people, does not even answer their questions. The greater part of 
his time he spends in sleep. 

'Some keep to the inner room and go out but rarely. Others wander 
about in the wilderness under the pretext of hunting or of keeping 
watch over the herd, but often without taking along any arms, or the 
lasso of the herdsman. A wanderer like this, however, must be closely 
watched, otherwise he might lie down on the open tundra and sleep for 

being Dually in a. high-strung condition. Here, too, the audience is expected to 
be friendly* or willing* sceptics are not welcomed for latter-day spirits also 
tend to be 'bashful,' unless unusually shameless. 

2 It has been reported about Pacific Coast shamanism that here too a shaman, 
threatened with destruction by a rival, has been known on occasion to collapse 
or even to die. 

3 Contrast this with the frantic zeal displayed by the searchers for visions and 
guardian spirits in North America. 


three or four days, incurring the danger, in winter, of being buried 
in drifting snow.' 4 

Hard as is the shamanistic initiation, it must at least in part be gone 
over again before each performance, nor may the shaman resist the 
call; when the inspiration is upon him, he must practise. Should he 
resist, his suffering becomes acute. He may sweat blood, and his actions 
become those of a madman, or epileptic. 

These performances require considerable physical exertion. Even the 
beating of the drum, without which no shamanistic performance takes 
place, requires skill and physical endurance. The same applies to the 
capacity of passing rapidly from a state of frantic excitation to one of 
normal quiescence. All this requires prolonged and strenuous practice^ 
For this reason shamanism is on the whole a young man's profession, 
and when a man reaches the age of forty, he usually lays down his 
art, sometimes passing it on to another. The latter act is achieved by 
blowing into the eyes or mouth of the novice, or by stabbing one's self 
and then the latter with a knife. Whatever the novice gains in power is 
lost by the shaman, and the loss is irretrievable. 

While the typical Chukchee shaman is a neurotic, shamans occur 
whose psychic mould is very different. Thus Bogoras refers to a shaman 
who was a 'good-looking, well-proportioned man, of rather quiet man 
ners, though an ill-advised word might throw him into intense excite 
ment. He excelled in shamanistic devices, which apparently required 
great physical strength and dexterity. At the same time, however, he 
declared that he did not consider himself a shaman of a high order, 
and that his relations with the "spirits" should not be taken too seri 
ously. To explain this, he said, that when he was young, he suffered 
from syphilis. To heal himself, he had recourse to spirits, and after 
two years, when he had become skilful in shamanistic practices, he was 
completely restored by their help. After that, he maintained intercourse 
with the kelet for several years, and was on the point of becoming a 
really great shaman. Then suddenly his luck was gone. One of his dogs 
bore two black pups; and when he saw them both sitting side by side 
on their haunches, looking into his face, he took it as a sign that the 
time had come for him to withdraw from shamanistic practice. He suf 
fered a relapse of his illness, and his herd was visited by hoof disease. 
Fearing that worse things might happen, he dropped all serious pur 
suit of shamanism, and practised only the tricks which were completely 

*W. Bogoras, The Chukchee, I: 'Religion' (Jesup North Pacific Expedition, 
voL VII) , p. 420. Bogoras is our authority for this sketch of Chukchee shamanism. 


harmless. As far as I could learn, he had been a magician employing 
especially the powers of evil, or practising the black art; and after the 
return of his disease he abandoned those practices, considering them 
detrimental to his health and well-being.' 6 

That the shamans practise deceit in the course of their performances 
is obvious enough. Not infrequently, in fact, this is observed even by a 
native audience, but the traditional prestige of shamanism overcomes 
the sporadic moments of scepticism. In compensation for their services, 
the shamans receive presents of meat, thongs, skins, garments, live 
reindeer, or 'alien food.' 'Shamanistic advice or treatment,' says the 
native practitioner, 'when given gratuitously, amounts to nothing.' 6 

The most common aims pursued at a shamanistic performance is the 
cure of the patient through the invocation of advice from spirits, or 
the bringing back of the patient's soul, abducted by hostile spirits, or 
the foretelling of future events after consultation with the same source. 

The following is a description of a typical shamanistic performance: 
'After the evening meal is finished and the kettles and trays are re 
moved to the outer tent, all the people who wish to be present at this 
seance enter the inner room, which is carefully closed for the night. 
Among the Reindeer Chukchee, the inner room is especially small, and 
its narrow space causes much inconvenience to the audience, which is 
packed together in a tight and most uncomfortable manner. The Mari 
time Chukchee have more room, and may listen to the voices of the 
spirits with more ease and freedom. The shaman sits on the "master's 
place" near the back wall ; and even in the most limited sleeping-room, 
some free space must be left around him. The drum is carefully looked 
over, its hide tightened, and, if it is much shrunken, it is moistened with 
urine and hung up for a short time over the lamp to dry. The shaman 
sometimes occupies more than an hour in this process, before he is 
satisfied with the drum. To have more freedom in his movements, the 
shaman usually takes off his fur shirt, and remains quite naked down 
to the waist. He often removes also his shoes and stockings, which, of 
course, gives free play to his feet and toes. 

. 'In olden times, shamans used no stimulants; but at present they 
often smoke a pipeful of strong tobacco without admixture of wood, 
which certainly works like a strong narcotic. This habit is copied from 
the Tungus shamans, who make great use of unmixed tobacco as a 
powerful stimulant. 


5 Ibid., p. 428-429. 

"This reminds one of the attitude of modern psychoanalysts who insist on the 
therapeutic value of the financial sacrifice made by the patient. 


'At last the light is put out and the shaman begins to operate. He 
beats the drum and sings his introductory tunes at first in a low voice. 
Then gradually his voice increases in volume, and soon it fills the small 
closed-up room with violent clamour. The narrow walls resound in all 

'Moreover, the shaman uses his drum for modifying his voice, now 
placing it directly before his mouth, now turning it at an oblique angle, 
and all the time beating it violently. After a few minutes, all this noise 
begins to work strangely on the listeners, who are crouching down, 
squeezed together in a most uncomfortable position. They begin to lose 
the power to locate the source of the sound; and, almost without any 
effort of imagination, the song and the drum seem to shift from corner 
to corner, or even to move about without having any definite place at all. 
'The shaman's songs have no words. Their music is mostly simple, 
and consists of one short phrase repeated again and again. After repeat 
ing it many times, the shaman breaks off, and utters a series of long- 
drawn, hysterical sighs, which sound something like "Ah, ya, ka, ya, 
ka, ya, ka!." After that, he comes back to his song. For this he draws 
his breath as deep as possible in order to have more air in his lungs, and 
to make the first note the longest. 

'Some of the tunes, however, are more varied, and are not devoid 
of a certain grace. Not a few are improvised by the shaman on the 
spot; others are repeated from seance to seance. Each shaman has 
several songs of his own, which are well-known to the people; so that 
if anybody uses one of them, for instance, at a ceremonial, the listeners 
recognize it immediately, and say that such and such a man is using 
the particular song of such and such a shaman. 

'But there is no definite order for the succession of the songs, and 
the shaman changes them at will, sometimes even recurring to the first 
one after a considerable interval has elapsed. This 'introductory singing 
lasts from a quarter of an hour to half an hour, or more, after which 
the kelet make their first appearance.' T 

While the shaman does all the singing, he expects someone from the 
audience to support him by means of a series of interjections. Without 
such 'answering calls,' a Chukchee shaman considers himself unable 
to perform his calling in a proper way. 8 Therefore, novices, while try 
ing to learn the shamanistic practices, usually induce a brother or 
sister to respond, thus encouraging the zeal of the performer. Some 

'answering calls' of our congregations or the similar behaviour 
of audiences at evangelical meetings. 


shamans also require those people who claim their advice or treatment 
to give them answering calls during the particular part of the per 
formance which refers to their affairs. The story-tellers of the Chukchee 
also usually claim the assistance of their listeners, who must call out 
the same exclamations. 

'Among the Asiatic Eskimo, the wife and other members of the family 
form a kind of chorus, which from time to time catches up the tune 
and sings with the shaman. Among the Russianized Yukaghir of the 
lower Kolyma, the wife is also the assistant of her shaman husband, 
and during the performance she gives him encouraging answers, and 
he addresses her as his "supporting staff." 

'In most cases the kelet begin by entering the body of the shaman. 
This is marked with some change in his manner of beating the drum, 
which becomes faster and more violent; but the chief mark is a series 
of new sounds, supposed to be peculiar to the kelet. The shaman shakes 
his head violently, producing with his lips a peculiar chattering noise, 
not unlike a man who is shivering with cold. He shouts hysterically 
and in a changed voice utters strange, prolonged shrieks, such as "0 
to, to, to, to," or "I pi, pi, pi, pi," all of which are supposed to char 
acterize the voice of the kelet. He often imitates the cries of various 
animals and birds which are supposed to be the particular assistants. 
If the shaman is only a "single-bodied" one that is, has no ventrilo- 
quistic powers the kelet will proceed to sing and beat the drum by 
means of his body. The only difference will be in the timbre of the 
voice, which will sound harsh and unnatural as becomes supernatural 
beings. 5 9 

The traits characteristic of Chukchee shamans are shared by them, 
often to a striking degree, with the Koryak, Kamchadal, and Yukaghir. 
More remotely, the Chukchee shaman is related culturally to the angakut 
of the Eskimo and the shamans of the American Northwest. 

For comparison with the above let me reproduce an account of a 
similar performance among a people called by Miss Czaplicka 'Neo- 
Siberian' (she designates the Chukchee as Talaeo-Siberian'). She has 
borrowed her story from the Russian writer Syeroshevsky. In his book, 
Twelve Years in the Land of the Yakut (in Russian), he describes the 
performance of a shaman among the Yakut. It runs like this: '"When the 
shaman who has been called to a sick person enters the yurta (hut) , he 
at once takes the place destined for him on the Ulliryk agon (seat for 
honoured guests). He lies on his white mare's skin and waits for the 

W. Bogoras, The Chukchee etc., pp. 43^435. 


night, the time when it is possible to shamanize. Meanwhile he is enter 
tained with food and drink. 

'When the sun sets and the dusk of evening approaches, all prepara 
tions for the ceremony in the yurta are hurriedly completed: the ground 
is swept, the wood is cut, and food is provided in larger quantity and 
of better quality than usual. One by one the neighbours arrive and 
seat themselves along the wall, the men on the right, and the women 
on the left; the conversation is peculiarly serious and reserved, the 
movements gentle. 

e ln the northern part of the Yakut district the host chooses the best 
latchets and forms them into a loop, which is placed around the 
shaman's shoulders and held by one of those present during the dance, 
in order to prevent the spirits from carrying him off. At length everyone 
has supper, and the household takes some rest The shaman, sitting on 
the edge of the billiryk, slowly untwists his tresses, muttering and giv 
ing orders. He sometimes has a nervous and artificial hiccup which 
makes his whole body shake; his gaze does not wander, his eyes being 
fixed on one point, usually on the fire. 

'The fire is allowed to die out. More and more deeply the dusk 
descends on the room; voices are hushed, and the company talks in a 
whisper; notice is given that anybody wishing to go out must do so 
at once, because soon the door will be closed, after which nobody can 
either go out or come in. 

'The shaman slowly takes off his shirt and puts on his wizard's coat, 
or failing that, he takes the woman's coat called sangyniah Then he 
is given a pipe, which he smokes for a long time, swallowing the smoke; 
his hiccup becomes louder, he shivers more violently. When he has 
finished smoking, his face is pale, his head falls on his breast, his eyes 
are half-closed. 

'At this point the white mare's skin is placed in the middle of the 
room. The shaman asks for cold water, and when he has drunk it he 
slowly holds out his hand for the drum prepared for him; he then walks 
to the middle of the room, and, kneeling for a time on his right knee, 
bows solemnly to all the four corners of the world, at the same time 
sprinkling the ground about him with the water from his mouth. 

'Now everything is silent. A handful of white horsehair is thrown on 
the fire, putting it quite out; in the faint gleam of the red coals the 
black motionless figure of the shaman is still to be seen for a while, 

10 Another Russian writer, Gmelin, speaks of special embroidered stockings which 
the shaman dons in the yurta. 


with drooping head, big drum on breast, and face turned towards the 
south, as is also the head of the mare's skin upon which he is sitting. 

'Complete darkness follows the dusk; the audience scarcely breathes, 
and only the unintelligible mutterings and hiccups of the shaman 
can be heard; gradually even this sinks into a profound silence. Eventu 
ally a single great yawn like the clang of iron breaks the stillness, fol 
lowed by the loud piercing cry of a falcon, or the plaintive weeping 
of a sea-mew then silence again. 

'Only the gentle sound of the voice of the drum, like the humming 
of a gnat, announces that the shaman has begun to play. 

'This music is at first soft, delicate, tender, then rough and irrepres 
sible like the roar of an oncoming storm. It grows louder and louder 
and, like peals of thunder, wild shouts rend the air; the crow calls, 
the grebe laughs, the sea-mews complain, snipes whistle, eagles and 
hawks scream. 11 

'The music swells and rises to the highest pitch, the beating of the 
drum becomes more and more vigorous, until the two sounds combine 
in one long-drawn crescendo. The numberless small bells ring and 
clang; it is not a storm it is a whole cascade of sounds, enough to 

overwhelm all the listeners. All at once it breaks off there are 

one or two strong beats on the drum, which, hitherto held aloft, now 
falls to the shaman's knees. Suddenly the sound of the drum and the 
small bells ceases. Then silence for a long moment, while the gentle 
gnat-like murmur of the drum begins again. 

'This may be repeated several times, according to the degree of the 
shaman's inspiration; at last, when the music takes on a certain new 
rhythm and melody, sombrely the voice of the shaman chants the follow 
ing obscure fragments : 

"Mighty bull of the earth. . . . Horse of the steppes! 
"I, the mighty bull . . . bellow! 
"I, the horse of the steppes . . . neigh ! 
"I, the man set above all other beings ! 
"I, the most gifted of all! 

"I, the man created by the master all-powerful ! 
"Horse of the steppes, appear! Teach me! 
"Enchanted bull of the earth, appear! Speak to me! 
"Powerful master, command me! 

"All of you, who will go with me, give heed with your ears! Those whom 
I command not, follow me not! 
"Approach not nearer than is permitted! Look intently! 

11 All these sounds are produced by the shaman by means of ventriloquism. 


"Give heed ! Have a care ! 

"Look heedfully! Do this, all of you ... all together . . . all, how 
ever many you may be! 

"Thou of the left side, lady with thy staff, if anything be done amiss, 
if I take not the right way, I entreat you correct me! Command! 
"My errors and my path show to me! mother of mine! Wing thy free 
flight! Pave my wide roadway! 

"Souls of the sun, mothers of the sun, living in the south, in the nine 
wooded hills, ye who shall be jealous ... I adjure you all ... let 
them stay ... let your three shadows stand high! 
"In the East, on your mountain, lord, grandsire of mine, great of power 
and thick of neck be thou with me! 

"And thou, grey-bearded wizard [fire], I ask thee: with all my dreams, 
with all comply! To all my desires consent. . . . Heed all! Fulfil 
all! ... All heed. . . . All fulfil!" 

'In the ensuing prayers the shaman addresses his dmdgyat [ancestral 
spirit] and other protective "spirits"; he talks with the kaliany [mis 
chievous familiar spirits], asks them questions, and gives answers in 
their names. Sometimes the shaman must pray and beat the drum a long 
time before the spirits come; often their appearance is so sudden and 
so impetuous that the shaman is overcome and falls down. It is a good 
sign if he falls on his face, and a bad sign if he falls on his back. 

'When the dmdgyat comes down to a shaman, he arises and begins 
to leap and dance, at first on the skin, and then, his movements becoming 
more rapid, he glides into the middle of the room. Wood is quickly 
piled on the fire, and the light spreads through the yurta, which is now 
full of noise and movement. The shaman dances, sings, and beats the 
drum uninterruptedly, jumps about furiously, turning his face to the 
south, then to the west, then to the east. Those who hold him by the 
leather thongs sometimes have great difficulty in controlling his move 
ments. In the south Yakut district, however, the shaman dances un 
fettered. Indeed, he often gives up his drum so as to be able to dance 
more unrestrainedly. 

'The head of the shaman is bowed, his eyes are half -closed; his hair 
tumbled and in wild disorder lies on his sweating face, his mouth is 
twisted strangely, saliva streams down his chin, often he foams at the 

'He moves round the room, advancing and retreating, beating the 
drum, which resounds no less wildly than the roaring of the shaman 
himself; he shakes his jingling coat, and seems to become more and 
more maniacal, intoxicated with the noise and movement. 


'His fury ebbs and rises like a wave; sometimes it leaves him for 
a while, and then, holding his drum high above his head, solemnly and 
calmly he chants a prayer and summons the "spirit." 

'At last he knows all he desires; he is acquainted with the cause of 
the misfortune or disease with which he has been striving; he is sure 
of the help of the beings whose aid he needs. Circling about in his 
dance, singing and playing, he approaches the patient. 

'With new objurgations he drives away the cause of the illness by 
frightening it, or by sucking it out with his mouth from the painful 
place: then, returning to the middle of the room, he drives it away by 
spitting and blowing. Then he learns what sacrifice is to be made to 
the "powerful spirits" for this harsh treatment of the spirits' servant, 
who was sent to the patient. 

'Then the shaman, shading his eyes from the light with his hands, 
looks attentively into each corner of the room; and if he notices any 
thing suspicious, he again beats the drum, dances, makes terrifying 
gestures, and entreats the "spirits." 

'At length all is made clean, the suspicious "cloud" is no more to be 
seen, which signifies that the cause of the illness has been driven out; 
the sacrifice is accepted, the prayers have been heard the ceremony 
is over. 

The shaman still retains for some time after this the gift of prophecy; 
he foretells various happenings, answers the questions of the curious, 
or relates what he saw on his journey away from the earth. 

'Finally he is carried with his mare's skin back to his place of honour 
on the billiryk* 12 

Medicine-men are, of course, ubiquitous in the primitive world. But 
in other localities their traits are only in part like those of the magic- 
working practitioners of Northeast Siberia and of northwestern and 
northern North America. According to Koch-Griinberg, men and women 
practitioners occur among the Guana, Tuppi-Ymba, and Yekuana of 
South America. Among the Chiriguama and many other tribes studied 
by Nordenskiold, both men and women practitioners have a 'comrade' 
in the other world who renders assistance to them. The 'comrades' of 
men are women, those of women, men. Both Dobritzhoffer and Hyades- 
Deniker state that old women are often held responsible for death. Ac 
cording to the same authors, definite separation does not always exist 
between the offices of chief and medicine-man, at least to the extent that 

12 M. A. Czaplicka, Aboriginal Siberia. (Reprinted by permission of The Clarendon 
Press, Oxford.) 


some of the prominent chiefs were also known as medicine-men. In his 
work on the Arawak-speaking peoples, Max Schmidt refers to some 
traits, physical and psychic, on the basis of which boys were selected 
for the profession of medicine-men. Among others, he mentions epilepsy, 
various physical peculiarities, such as hemorrhage of the breast, and 
general nervousness. Payments for medicinal services are mentioned 
constantly and seem to be as common as they are in Siberia. In some 
districts medicine-men belonging to a different tribe, or even to a dif 
ferent village occupied by the same tribe, are regarded as evil, whereas 
the practitioners of one's own tribe and village are thought to be help 
ful and benevolent. 18 

In some South American tribes the profession of a medicine-man 
requires long preparation, sometimes extending over months, or even 
years. Enforced fasting and various forms of self-castigation are common 
characteristics of the period of apprenticeship. Some of the things the 
apprentice is expected to learn from his expert preceptors are monoto 
nous singing, ventriloquism, imitation of animal voices, sucking out of 
poison, the habit of drinking narcotics and poisons, the swallowing of 
small animals, the swallowing and expectorating of small pebbles and 
pieces of wood. This list of professional accomplishments, not radically 
different in South America and Northeast Siberia, brings home the fact 
that the medicine-man, if he is a mountebank, takes great pains to be a 
good one. In extreme cases, we are informed, magicians will not hesitate 
to take violent measures rather than endanger their prestige. Thus, 
Von den Steinen relates about the Bororo healers that when the death 
of a sick child has been foretold by one of them, he will try to help 
matters along by strangling it with a thread. 

In Australia, the medicinal functions of magicians are so character 
istic that Howitt, in speaking of the southeastern district of the continent, 
defines the medicine-man as "one who causes or cures death by project 
ing into bodies, or extracting from them, quartz crystals, bone, wood 
or other things/ And he continues: 'The belief in magic in its various 

13 This psychologically plausible attitude occurs frequently in different parts of 
the world: magicians of other tribes are regarded either as evil or as more power 
ful. A number of such instances have been recorded in Australia, and in North 
America the Haida, at least, show an extraordinary respect for the shamans of the 
Tlingit. In modern days, also, people who disclaim any faith in magic, do yet 
lend an eager ear to a Gipsy soothsayer and an equally responsive eye to a Hindu 
fakir. In a more sophisticated realm we find the common tendency of importing 
a physician or consultant from another city, or country if one can afford it 
although in sheer objectivity those available in the *home town* may be just 
as good. 


forms in dreams, omens and warnings is so universal and mingles 
so intimately with the daily life of the aborigines that no one, not even 
those who practise deceit themselves, doubt the power of other medicine 
men, or that if they failed to detect their magical purpose, the failure 
is due to an error in the practice or to the superior skill or power of 
some adverse practitioner.' 14 

The kunki, magicians of the Dieri, hold intercourse with supernatural 
beings, and with their assistance interpret dreams and reveal the identity 
of those responsible for death by magic. Howitt relates the case of a 
magician who cured a man who was about to expire. The magician 
stepped outside and caught the spirit of the man just as it was pro 
ceeding towards the other world; then, lying down on the top of 
the half-dead man, he thrust the spirit into him, thus bringing him 
back to life. As simple as that ! 

In other instances, knowledge rather than magic is used, but the 
two kinds of cures are taken by the natives very much in the same 
spirit. Thus, a woman who was bitten by a snake was cured by her 
husband, not a regular magician, in the following way: he secured a 
cord, tied it above the knee of the bitten leg, twisting it tighter with 
a stick, then he picked up a quartz pebble, cracked it in two, and with 
the sharp edge cut a circle right around the leg, severing the skin. The 
blood oozed out, and though the woman at first became drowsy and 
ill, she gradually recovered. 

Among the Kurnai, there is a separate variety of harmless magicians 
who go up to the spirit world to learn songs and dances, then come 
back and teach them to the people. 

While marked elements of similarity must have been noted between 
the magical practitioners of Northeast Siberia and those of South Amer 
ica and Southeast Australia, it must be remembered that the general 
character of the individuals who engage in magical cures in these 
regions, is not by any means the same. The shamans of Siberia and North 
America are high-strung and often neurotic individuals. This is also 
true of South America, though less markedly so. The magicians of 
Australia, on the other hand, are perfectly normal people, distinguished 
rather by common sense and shrewdness than by the qualities of a so- 
called 'psychic.' Their 'fitness' is more like that of chiefs and leaders 
in industrial pursuits. Together with the latter and the old men gen 
erally, they guide the younger generation by their example and their 
teaching. } 

nf A ' J' U ^ r Native TTib f Southeast Australia, p. 356. (By permission 
of Ihe Macnullan Company, publishers.) 


The Ghost-Dance Religions of the North American Indians 

While the origin of religion is a psychological or even a psycho- 
biological problem, the anthropologist is primarily concerned with the 
forms religion takes in particular tribes, as well as with the appearance 
of religious features in a group, either as spontaneous inventions or 
as borrowed traits. A variety of forms taken by religious belief and 
practice in different tribes have been described in the preceding pages. 
To find examples of religious origins, on the other hand, is not so 
easy. It is for this reason that the data available on the Ghost-Dance 
religions of the Indians present a more than ordinary interest. 

The common cause of these religious revivals is to be sought in 
the abnormal conditions arising out of the contact of White man's 
civilization with the religious and ethical traditions of the Indians. 
The mode of origin of these so-called revivals in the different tribes 
is strikingly similar, while the irresistible 'spread of revivalist fervour 
from tribe to tribe presents an astounding picture of religious re 
ceptivity, as well as of the rapidity with which a trait-complex^may 
travel, under favourable conditions. 

One or two concrete examples will make clear just what it is that took 
place here. 

The great revivalist prophet, Smohalla, was a member of a small 
tribe related to the Nez Perce Indians. The date of his birth falls be 
tween 1815 and 1820. After frequenting a Catholic Mission among the 
Yakima, the youth achieved renown as a warrior, and later as a 
medicine-man. As his fame as a magical practitioner grew, he became 
involved in an acrimonious dispute with Moses, a rival medicine-man 
and chief of a neighbouring tribe. The affair came to an open fight 
in which Smohalla was worsted and nearly killed. He was, in fact, left 
for dead on the battle-field. Reviving, he managed to drag himself to 
a boat, and was carried down the current of the Columbia River, until 
picked up by some White men. 

His recovery was slow. When his strength ultimately returned, he 
showed no inclination to rejoin his people, among whom, he knew, he 
was regarded as dead. So he started on a prolonged period of wander 
ings. He made his way along the coast to Mexico, and from there he 
travelled back north through Arizona and Nevada. While on this trip, 
he began to preach the new doctrine. He averred that after his body 
had died he had visited the spirit world, and that he was now preaching 
by divine command. When he arrived among the tribes who had heard 
of him before his unlucky fight, his tale was accepted as true, for he 


had been thought dead, and it was known that his body had disap 
peared. His doctrine centred in the prophecy that Indian life, as it was 
in ancient days, would return, that the buffalo would come back, and 
White man withdraw from the land. In the ceremonies which accom 
panied his preaching, the evidence of the impact of the rituals of the 
Catholic Church was unmistakable. The new doctrine also contained a 
rigid code of ethical behaviour, which exerted a remarkable influence 
on the tribes that fell under its sweep. 

Smohalla knew well how to enhance his prestige by little tricks, such 
as the foretelling of eclipses. 15 He was enabled to do this by using an 
almanac and gleaning some additional items from a party of surveyors. 
This particular trick, incidentally, almost cost him his reputation. It 
so happened that at the expiration of the year he was unable to secure 
another almanac, with the credible result that his reputation for pro 
phetic prowess went into a sudden decline. 

It seems that Smohalla was subject to cataleptic trances and that his 
alleged supernatural revelations came to him while he was lying 
prostrate in an apparently unconscious condition. The somewhat nai've 
remarks quoted by James Mooney from MacMurray are of sufficient 
interest to be reproduced here: 

'He falls into trances and lies rigid for considerable periods. Un 
believers have experimented by sticking needles through his flesh, cut 
ting him with knives and otherwise testing his sensibilities to pain 
without provoking any responsive action. It was asserted that he was 
surely dead, because blood did not flow from his wounds. These trances 
always excite great interest and often alarm, as he threatens to aban 
don his earthly body altogether, because of the disobedience of his 
people. ... It is this going into long trances, out of which he comes 
as from heavy sleep, and almost immediately relates his experiences 
in the spirit land, that gave rise to the title of "Dreamers,'" or believers 
in dreams, commonly given to his followers by the neighbouring 
Whites. His actions are similar to those of a trance medium, and if self- 
hypnotization be practicable, that would seem to explain it. I ques 
tioned him as to his trances, and hoped to have him explain them to 
me, but he avoided the subject, and was angered when I pressed him. 
He manifestly believes all he says of what occurs to him in this trance 
state. As we have hundreds of thousands of educated White people who 

15 It will be remembered that the early Ionian Greek philosopher, Thales, also 
enhanced his prestige by foretelling eclipses. 


believe in similar fallacies, this is not more unlikely in an Indian 
subjected to such influences.' 16 

Further on the same author continues to describe one of the cere 
monial occasions on which Smohalla preached the new religion and 
made converts. 

'Smohalla invited me to participate in what he considered a great 
ceremonial service within the larger house. His house was built with a 
frame work of stout logs placed upright in the ground, and roofed over 
with brush, or with canvas in rainy weather. The sides consisted of 
bark and rush matting. It was about seventy-five feet long, by about 
twenty-five feet wide. Singing and drumming had been going on for 
some time when I arrived. The air resounded with the voices of hun 
dreds of Indians, male and female, and the banging of drums. Within, 
the room was dimly lighted. Smoke curled from a fire on the floor at 
the farther end, and pervaded the atmosphere. The ceiling was hung 
with hundreds of salmon, split and drying in the smoke. 

'The scene was a strange one. On either side of the room was a row 
of twelve women, standing erect, with arms crossed and hands ex 
tended, with finger-tips at the shoulders. They kept time to the drums 
and the voices by balancing on the balls of their feet and tapping with 
their heels on the floor, while they chanted with varying pitch and 
time. The excitement and persistent repetition wore them out, and I 
heard that others than Smohalla had seen visions in their trances, but 
I saw none who would admit it, or explain anything of it. I fancied 
they feared their own action, and that real death might come to them 
in this simulated death. 

'Those on the right hand were dressed in garments of a red colour 
with an attempt at uniformity. Those on the left wore costumes of white 
buckskin, said to be very ancient ceremonial costumes, with red and 
blue trimmings. All wore large round silver plates, or such other 
glittering ornaments as they possessed. A canvas covered the floor, 
and on it knelt the men and boys in lines of seven. Each seven, as a 
rule, had shirts of the same colour. The tallest were in front, the size 
diminishing regularly to the rear. Children and ancient hags filled in 
any spare space. In front on a mattress knelt Smohalla, his left hand cov 
ering his heart. On his right was the boy bell ringer in similar posture.' 17 
Another great prophet or messiah was Wovoka, probably a Paiute 

16 James Mooney, The Ghost-Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890,' 
14th Report, Bureau of American Ethnology, pp. 719-720. 
i* Ibid., $.126. 


Indian, Lorn about 1856. It seems that his father had been a minor 
prophet, so that Wovoka grew up in an atmosphere suggesting his 
future calling. He received his great revelation at the early age of four 
teen. *0n this occasion "the sun died" 1S . . . and he fell asleep in the 
daytime and was taken up to the other world. Here he saw God, with 
all the people who had died long ago engaged in their old-time sports 
and occupations, all happy and for ever young. It was a pleasant land 
and full of game. After showing him all, God told him he must go 
back and tell his people they must be good and love one another, have 
no quarrelling and live in peace with the Whites; that they must work 
and not lie or steal; that they must put away all the old practices 
that savoured of war; that if they faithfully obeyed his instruc 
tions, they would at last be reunited with their friends in this other 
world, where there would be no more death, or sickness, or old age. 
He was then given the dance which he was commanded to bring back 
to his people. By performing this dance at intervals, for five consecu 
tive days each time, they would secure this happiness to themselves and 
hasten the event. Finally, God gave him control over the elements, so 
that he could make it rain or snow or be dry at will, and appointed him 
his deputy to take charge of affairs in the West, while "Governor Har 
rison" would attend to matters in the East, and he, God, would look 
after the world above. He then returned to earth and began to preach as 
he was directed, convincing the people by exercising the wonderful 
powers that had been given him.' 10 

Wovoka was a powerful magician. He had five songs by means of 
which he could control rain and snow. The first song brought mists 
or clouds, the others, each with its specific power, brought snowfall, 
shower, rain or storm, and clear weather. The ceremonial aspect of the 
dances produced by Wovoka were of the usual kind, embracing frenzy, 
fits, and visions. 

The mythology of the doctrine can be briefly stated in the words 
of Mooney: 'The dead are all arisen and the spirit hosts are advancing 
and have already arrived at the boundaries of this earth, led forward 
by the regenerator in shape of cloudlike indistinctness. The spirit captain 
of the dead is always represented under this shadowy semblance. The 
great change will be ushered in by a trembling of this earth, at which 
the faithful are exhorted to feel no alarm. The hope held out is the 

18 The reference is to the eclipse of that year, an event which always arouses 
great commotion among Indians, as in any other community. It seems that the 
sickly youth was thrown into a fit, accompanied by a rather elaborate hallucination. 

19 Ibid., pp. 771-772. 


same that has inspired the Christian for nineteen centuries a happy 
immortality in perpetual youth. As to fixing a date, the Messiah is as 
thoughtless as his predecessor in prophecy, who declares that "no 
man knoweth the time, not even the angels above." ' 20 

The ethical code embraced such maxims as, 'Do no harm to anyone; 
do right always,' 'Do not tell lies,' 'When your friends die, you must 
not cry' a reference to the elaborate, expensive, and often cruel burial 
rites practised by these tribes. But the most important maxim was, 
'You must not fight.' The effect of this ethical code, in its setting of 
a revivalist doctrine, seems to have been remarkable, in so far as it 
fostered friendliness among tribes that had previously been almost 
perpetually at war. 

A religious upheaval similar to the Ghost-Dance religions of the 
West swept over the Iroquois tribes of the Great Lakes region in the 
beginning of the nineteenth century. Here the prophet was Sganya- 
daiyu, 'Handsome-Lake,' the brother of a renowned war chief. So far 
as known, his life to the age of sixty was in no way unusual, and if 
he achieved any distinction, it was by his rather wild and disorderly 
habits. Then he fell sick, his ailment being pronounced hopeless. While 
on his death-bed he had an elaborate dream accompanied by a vision, 
usually referred to as the vision of the 'four angels.' In this dream and 
vision he claims to have received the message on which he built his 
doctrine. Christian influence in this episode is obvious: there were the 
'four angels' and an implied belief in one supreme god, a belief for 
eign to aboriginal Indian religion. Handsome-Lake's teaching rejected 
some of the ancient beliefs and ceremonies of the Iroquois as heathen 
and evil. At the same time many of the pre-existing beliefs and prac 
tices were incorporated in the precepts of the new doctrine. Here also 
the new teaching had an ethical flavour it prescribed peace, truthful 
ness, and sobriety, and comprised certain educational maxims. 

The doctrine of Handsome-Lake received wide acceptance among the 
Iroquois tribes, and to this day, on many of the Iroquoian reservations, 
some Indians belong to one or another Christian denomination, while 
others, not always the minority, are followers of Handsome-Lake and 
prefer to be designated as 'deists.' 21 There are still a number of men 

p. 782. 

21 The reference is to my friend and one-time informant, the late Chief John 
Gibson and his followers. An outstanding personality and leading expert on all 
matters Iroquoian, this remarkable man was during the last years of his life the 
principal representative of the Handsome-Lake doctrine. Notwithstanding his total 
blindness, he travelled yearly to the different reservations, accompanied by his 
brother, in order to preach the doctrine. He it was who objected to the term 


living who know the entire doctrine and preach it on the different 
reservations. This process, when accompanied by explanations, takes 
all of three hours' preaching a day for five days. It is remarkable, as 
has often been noted, how thoroughly the older beliefs of the Iroquois 
were extirpated after the emergence and spread of the new religion. 22 

The Ghost-Dance religions of the western Indians and the doctrine 
of Handsome-Lake call to mind parallel phenomena in modern times. 
The numerous Russian sects, which in the course of the last three cen 
turies have split off from the Greek Catholic Church, present many 
features of striking resemblance to those reviewed above. The conflict 
ing interests and customs of the Whites and the Indians, which provide 
the socio-psychological background for American Indian revivalism, 
find their analogue in the ruthless pressure exerted by the Orthodox 
Church upon the religious ideas of the ethnically complex population 
of the Russian plains. Once more we meet the prophets, wonder-workers 
and messiahs, or earthly representatives of the Messiah. The new reli 
gions are accompanied by ceremonialism., often of a secret nature. One 
hears of visions and fits. There is, finally, an ethical code with the usual 
drastic demands on the stolidity and altruism of the devotees. 23 

The religious transformations of early society are veiled in dark 
ness. It is doubtful whether we shall ever possess authentic material 
to fill in this chapter in human history; but one may be permitted to 
conjecture that religious revivals, when they did occur, came at periods 
of emotional stress and strain, perhaps precipitated by inter-tribal con- 

'heathen 5 used in Canadian Government reports to designate those Indians who 
had not become Christians. He undertook a special trip to the Indian Office in 
Ottawa to present his case in favour of the term 'deist.* He won the case, and the 
term is now officially used in the Canadian Government publications. 

22 In his study, The Prophet Dance of the Northwest and its Derivatives; Th& 
Source of the Ghost Dance (1935), Leslie Spier, with extensive documentation, de 
fends the thesis that later Ghost-Dance religions (beginning in 1890) leaned against 
the background of the Prophet Dance, in many ways similar to the Ghost Dance 
in content, but much older as well as nearer to the original native culture. The 
author shows on a map the relative distributions of the Prophet Dance, the Ghost 
Dance, as represented by the Smohalla cult, and the modern Shaker cult, a 
christianized form of the Ghost Dance. The geographical distribution shows the 
Prophet cult to be by far the most widespread, extending south, east, and north 
beyond the Ghost Dance, thus indicating, with the support of chronology, that the 
latter developed on the older foundation laid by the Prophet cult. The Shaker 
cult extends along the border of the Pacific, from the northern fringe of southern 
California to Puget Sound. It represents a western extension of the older native cults. 

23 The statements in the above paragraph refer to nineteenth-century Russia. For 
lack of data I am unable to say what has become of the sectarians under the present 


flict or the impact of incompatible idea-systems, and that in their 
nature, mechanism and progress, these revivals were not unlike the 
Ghost-Dance religions of the American Indians or the heretical creeds 
of the Russian sectarians. 

Chapter XVIII 

The Supernatural World of the Bella Coola * 

The views of the Bella Coola about the Other World and its relation 
to the earth are elaborate and unusually systematic. Altogether, they 
say, there are five worlds, one above another. In the middle is our own 
world. Above it extend two heavens and below, two under -worlds. In 
the upper heaven resides the supreme female deity, who is relatively 
little concerned with the affairs of mankind. In the centre of the lower 
heaven stands the House-of-the-Gods in which reside the Sun and all 
the other deities. The earth is an island floating upon the ocean. The 
first under-world is inhabited by the ghosts who are at liberty to return 
to heaven, whence they may be sent down to earth again. A ghost that 
dies for a second time sinks to the lower under-world, from which there 
is no return. The female deity who rules in the uppermost heaven is 
referred to as Our Woman or Afraid-of-Nothing. This uppermost heaven 
is a prairie without any trees. To reach it one must go up the river 
from the House-of-the-Gods in the first heaven, or one may also reach 
it from the first heaven by passing through a rent in the sky. The house 
of Our Woman stands in the far East where a gale is continually blow 
ing over the open country, driving everything towards the entrance of 
her house. Near the house itself, however, calm reigns. In front of the 
house stands a post shaped like a large winged monster. The entrance 
to the house is through its mouth. A spot in front of the house is cov- 

1 The Bella Coola Indians inhabit the coasts of two long and narrow fjords in 
British Columbia. This tribe occupies a peculiar position among the peoples of 
the Northwest Coast. Analysis of their language and traditions proves that they are 
relatively recent immigrants into the region which they now inhabit. The language 
of the Bella Coola is Salish, and they must have once lived in the immediate 
proximity of other Salish-speaking tribes farther down the coast. In their physi 
cal appearance the Bella Coola have undergone changes due to their intermarriages 
with the northern coast tribes as well as the Athabascans of the interior, so that 
at present they differ considerably from their relatives to the south. The same is 
true of their customs and beliefs, which have become greatly modified through 
the influence of their northern neighbours. From this latter standpoint the Bella 
Coola, though differing from the typical Pacific Coast tribes in many particulars, 
must be regarded as forming a subdivision of the Northwest Coast area. 



ered with gravel of three colours: blue, black, and white. Behind the 
house is a salt-water pond in which the goddess bathes. In this pond 
lives Sisiutl, variously described as a snake or a fish. Sisiutl sometimes 
comes down to earth. Wherever it moves the rocks burst and slide down 
the mountain-sides. 

In the beginning, it is said, the mountains were of great height. These 
mountains are supposed to have been human beings. Our Woman made 
war upon the mountains, and having vanquished them she made them 
smaller than they were before. During this fight she broke off the nose 
of one mountain, as can still be seen, say the Indians, when one looks at 
the mountain. When it is called by name, it answers. At the head-waters 
of the Bella Coola River there are two mountains, one of which had 
a fire burning in its house. This fire warned the mountain god of the 
approach of enemies. When Our Woman was making war upon the 
mountain, the fire forewarned its master. When she approached, coming 
down the river in her canoe, he broke the canoe, and she returned to 
heaven. The canoe turned into stone and may still be seen at the foot 
of the mountain. Our Woman visits the earth now and then, bringing 
sickness and death with her. She is described as a great warrior. 

In the centre of the first heaven, as was said, stands the House-of-the- 
Gods. It is also referred to as the House-of-Myths or Where-Man-Was- 
Created, or the House-from-Which-People-Come-Down, or the House- 
to-Which -People-Go. In front of the house stands a post painted with 
representations of different birds, a white crane sitting on the top of 
the post. The master of the house is the Sun, also referred to as Our 
Father or The-Sacred-One. This god, the Sun, is the only one to whom 
the Bella Coola address their prayers. They also make offerings to him. 
There is also another deity, as important as the Sun, who lives with 
him in the rear of the House-of-the-Gods. Near the fire is a third deity, 
an old man who formerly ruled the House-of-the-Gods but has ceded 
his place to the other two deities. These two are the rulers of man 
kind. It is believed that they have created man, but curiously enough, 
they are also thought to be seeking the destruction of mankind. A num 
ber of inferior deities also reside in the House-of-the-Gods, whose 
functions all refer to the great winter ceremonial of the Bella Coola 
known as the kusiut. The various rituals performed during the Jcusiut 
are dramatic representations of the myths referring to different deities, 
particularly those in the House-of-the-Gods, and masks representing 
these deities are used in the ceremonies. One of these deities ordains the 
deaths of men and animals; its particular duty is to kill those who 
transgress the laws of the kusiut. Another deity sits by itself in one 


corner of the House-of-the-Gods, and its function it is to prevent those 
who are not initiated in the secrets of the kusiut from approaching the 
house. Then there is a deity in the form of a fabulous monster. Still 
another is a boy who performs kusiut dances all the time, and when 
the gods resolve to send a new dance to the earth it is conveyed by this 
boy. In addition to these, there are other deities of similar functions 
and still others whose concern is not the kusiut but the affairs of man 
and the world. One of these is associated with the Sun, who is the 
creator of man. Thus the Sun is held responsible for the creation of 
new-born children, whereas his assistant gives a child its particular 
features. A female goddess takes charge of children before they are 
born by rocking them in a cradle. After she has done this they are 
sent down to the world. She does this also with the children of animals, 
ordaining at the same time that their skins and flesh shall provide 
clothing and food for man. Another deity is the Mother-of-Flowers. 
Every spring she gives birth to all the plants in the order in which 
they appear. In this work she is assisted by two old women and a 

While the Sun and his assistant deity are seen to play an important 
part in determining the fates of men, they do not do so personally but 
through the intermediation of four brothers who carry out their 
thoughts. The names of three of these brothers are The-One-Who-Fin- 
ishes-His -Work -By-Chopping - Once, The - One -Who-Finishes-His -Work- 
By-Rubbing - Once, and The - One -Who - Finishes -His -Work-by- Cutting- 
Once. With the brothers lives a sister ; together they inhabit an elevated 
room in the rear of the House-of-the-Gods. They are engaged in carv 
ing and painting and are supposed to have given man his arts. They 
taught him to build canoes and houses, to make boxes, carve in wood, 
and paint. They taught him the art of hunting and some say that they 
made the fish. The Bella Coola believe that when a carving is made 
by them, the idea for the design is suggested by the four brothers. Al 
though most of the Bella Coola will say that the Raven also lives in the 
House-of-the-Gods, there seems to be some doubt about this. 

In addition to all these deities there are nine brothers and a sister 
even more particularly concerned with the observation of the kusiut. 
Each one of these deities is painted with a certain design, two with that 
of the full moon, two with that of the half-moon, two with a design 
representing stars, two with the rainbow, another with the salmon- 
berry blossom, still another with the kingfisher, and the last with a sea- 
lion bladder filled with grease. The last one, who is the sister, wears 
rings of red and white cedar bark. 


In the rear of the House-of-the-Gods there is a special room in which 
lives the son of the deities, whom we might designate as Cannibal- 
Maker. Whenever the Sun and his assistant desire to destroy a visitor, 
they send him past the door of Cannibal -Maker's room. The latter 
rushes out and devours the visitor. It is he who initiates the Cannibal into 
the society of that name. According to the tradition of one of the 
Bella Coola tribes, they acquired membership in the Cannibal Society 
in the following way: 

Cannibal-Maker came down to a certain mountain where he met the 
son of the first member of the tribe. He conducted him to the House- 
of-the-Gods, took him to his room, and bestowed a name upon him. He 
put a snake into his body which enabled him to pass through water. 
When the youth applied his mouth to the body of a person, the snake 
tore pieces of flesh from the body and devoured it. Cannibal-Maker took 
the youth to the uppermost heaven, passing through the rent in the 
sky and into the house of the supreme deity, Our Woman. The two 
were blown towards the house by the strong gale which, as we saw, is 
prevalent in this heaven. They found Our Woman sitting in front of 
the house. She said to Cannibal-Maker, 'Why don't you come in? You 
wish that your friend should obtain great supernatural powers. Bring 
him to my house and I will give him what you desire. Stay for a short 
while where you are and I will show you what I am doing. Watch 
closely when the post of my house closes its eyes.' In a while the post 
closed its eyes, but at once it grew dark and the two visitors fainted, 
but soon recovered. When the post opened its eyes it grew light again. 
The visitors remained sitting on the ground, and suddenly a strong 
wind arose and rolled them over the prairie to the door of the house, 
and then it calmed down. They remained sitting on the ground near the 
doorway, when Our Woman said, 'Watch closely when the post of my 
house closes its eyes.' Sitting opposite each other, they were watching 
the post. When it closed its eyes they were transformed into stone, but 
soon regained human shape. Then Our Woman asked them to come in; 
she took the youth's blanket and gave him another made of bearskin 
set with fringes of red cedar bark. She told him the blanket was to keep 
him warm and direct his course. Then she brought some water from the 
salt-water pond behind her house. She sprinkled it over the faces of her 
visitors and told the youth to sing about his experiences in the upper 
most heaven when he was to perform the Cannibal dance. Had she not 
sprinkled the face of her visitors with water they would have died. She 
said to the youth, Tour country is not far away. Do not be afraid of 
the dangerous road that you have to pass. Later on there shall be many 


Cannibals like you. Do not be afraid to touch the food another Can 
nibal may offer you. You are strong because you have seen me.' Then 
she sent him back to the first heaven. Here the gods placed him on the 
back of a bird which carried him down to the sea. As soon as the bird 
reached the water, it uttered its cry. and then the young man uttered 
the cry of the Cannibal The people heard it and they said, 'That must 
be the boy whom we lost some time ago.' They connected many canoes 
by means of planks and paddled to the place where the bird was swim 
ming about. They covered their canoes with red cedar bark and eagle- 
down and tried to capture the youth, but as they approached the bird 
swam towards the village. They surrounded it with their canoes, but 
the bird flew up and disappeared in the sky. At the same time 
the youth flew towards the village. When the people landed he 
attacked them, taking hold of their arms. And the snake which was 
still in his body tore pieces of flesh out of their arms. In order to 
appease him people sang songs and beat time. Such is the tradition 
of one Bella Coola tribe as to the manner in which they acquired mem 
bership in the Cannibal Society. 

The sky is believed to be in the care of twenty-four guardians. Accord 
ing to tradition the sky must be continually fed with firewood. Once upon 
a time the guardians put too much firewood into the sky and it burst. 
All the pieces except one fell down to the earth. The fragments of the 
sky hit the faces of the twenty-four guardians and distorted them. They 
tried to mend the sky but did not know how to do it. Then they went down 
the river and came to the four brothers, whose assistance they asked. 
The brothers gathered up the pieces and glued them together. Up to 
that time the Sun had been dwelling in the East, but now he began to 
travel on his daily course, and it is at that time that the four brothers 
built a bridge over which the sun can be seen proceeding every day. 
They placed a wedge in the opening of the sky into which the twenty-four 
guardians have to put the firewood. This opening is called Mouth-Kept- 
Open-by- Means-of-a-Wedge. The four brothers said: The sky shall not 
burst again, this wedge shall keep its mouth open.' 

The supernatural world below the earth is the Ghost Country. De 
scriptions of it are principally obtained from shamans, who believe 
that they visit the Ghost Country in their trances. According to the 
statement of an old woman who had done this when she was a little 
girl, the entrance to the country of the ghosts is through a hole situated 
in each house between the doorway and the fireplace. The Ghost Coun 
try stretches along the sandy banks of a large river. Behind the village 
stands a hill the base of which is covered with sharp stones. When it is 


summer here, it is winter in the Ghost Country. When it is night here, 
it is day there. Ghosts do not walk on their feet, but on their heads. 
Their language is also different from that spoken on earth. When hu 
man souls reach the lower world they receive new names. The ghost 
village is surrounded by a fence. They have a dancing-house there in 
which they perform the kusiut. This dancing-house is just below the 
burial-place of each village. It is very large and long and has four 
fires. The women ghosts stay on the floor of the house while the men 
sit on an elevated platform. The house has doors, but the ghosts upon 
first leaving the lower world enter it through the smoke-hole, aided by 
a rope ladder placed in the smoke-hole. Two men stand at the foot of 
the ladder. Once a person has entered the dancing-house there is no 
return to earth. Their souls, however, are free to return to the first 
heaven by ascending the rope ladder. Those who thus ascend to the first 
heaven are sent back to earth by the deities to be born' as children in 
the same family to which they belonged. Those who enjoy life in the 
Ghost Country and do not return to heaven die a second death, where 
upon they sink to the lowermost world from which there is no return. 
As a sample of Bella Coola myths I shall now reproduce one about 
the Raven, as recorded by Professor Boas. 

There was a widow with a beautiful daughter. The Raven mar 
ried the widow, but soon began to covet the daughter, and to think 
how he could get possession of her. Now he had devised a plan. He did 
not light a fire in his house for two days, until the girl began to com 
plain of the cold. Then he offered to go to get firewood. First he went 
to the Alder, made a cut in its bark, and asked, 'What do you do when 
you are thrown into the fire?' The Alder replied, 'I burn very quietly 
and steadily.' Then the Raven retorted, 'You are not the one whom I 
want.' Next he went to the Pine, made a cut in its bark, and asked, 'What 
do you do when you are thrown into the fire?' The Pine retorted, 'My 
nose runs and the fire crackles.' c You are not the one whom I want,' 
said the Raven. He went to the Red Cedar, made a cut in its bark, and 
asked, 'What do you do when you are thrown into the fire?' 

Then he planned what to do next. At this time a certain bird living 
on the mountains invited all the people to a feast. The Raven was not 
invited, and he planned how to obtain the food that they were pre 
paring. He pretended to be sick, and said to his two children: 'It is 
ridiculous that this bird pretends to be a chief. He has nothing but 
leaves to eat. But you had better go and see what kind of food he is 
preparing.' Then the two young ravens went, and saw that he was 
broiling meat. When the food was almost done, the Raven arose, and 


crept stealthily behind the house in which all the guests were assem 
bled. By this time the meat was done, and the people were placing it 
on long planks. Then he cried, 'Wina, wina, wina, wina! exa, exa, exa, 
exa!' Then the people stopped, and said, 'Who is crying there?' But 
the Raven ran home as quickly as possible, and lay down by the side 
of the fireplace. He asked his children to strew ashes over his body so 
as to avert suspicion of his having left the house. 

Now the people sent two messengers to the Raven's house, in order 
to see if he might have uttered the cries; but they saw him lying down 
near the fireplace, and noticed that he was covered with ashes. Then the 
messengers returned, and reported what they had seen. The people 
discussed the meaning of the cries, and finally resolved to send to the 
Raven, who was renowned on account of his experience, and to ask his 
opinion. Two messengers went to see him. When they asked him, he 
said. 'Those cries mean that your enemies will come to kill you. Escape 
while there is yet time. Don't stop to take your food along, but run 
away.' The people followed his advice. He said, 'I cannot join you be 
cause I am sick. It does not matter whether the enemies kill me or 
whether I die of disease.' As soon as the people had left, he arose, 
took all the meat, and hid it near his own house. On the following 
morning the people returned, and saw that the village was undisturbed, 
only the meat had disappeared. They looked askance at the Raven, sus 
pecting that he had stolen their meat. 

On the following day the Raven thought, 'I will go to visit the Deer.' 
He went there, opened the door of the Deer's house, and said, 'At what 
season are you fattest?' The Deer replied, 'At the time when the people 
have dried all their fish.' Then the Raven left him, and returned at the 
time when all the fish had been dried. He said, 'Lequmai, come ! I want 
to speak to you. Let us go up the mountain, and let us tell about our 
ancestors.' They went up the mountain; and the Raven said, 'Here is 
the place where I am accustomed to sit and to bask in the sun. Let us 
sit down here.' It was a meadow near a steep precipice. The Raven 
induced the Deer to sit down near the precipice, while he himself sat 
down a little farther back. Now he supported his head on his hand, 
and began to cry, 'How long your fore legs are, how long your fore 
legs are! 3 Then the Deer began to cry, and sang, 'How grey your nose 
is!' And the Raven retorted, singing, 'How long your nose is!' 

Thus they continued for some time. When they had finished crying, 
the Raven asked, 'How long have you been in this world?' The Deer 
replied, 'It is a long time that I have "been here. Tell me first how long 
you have been here.' Then the Raven said: 'I became a man when the 


mountains began to rise.' The Deer retorted, That is not so long. I am 
older than you are. I became a man before the Sun gave the world its 
present form.' Then they began to cry again; and this time the Deer 
sang, 'How ugly his foot is ! His foot is all covered with scars.' Then 
the Raven grew angry, pushed the Deer, and threw him down the 
precipice. Then he assumed the shape of the Raven, and flew down 
the mountain, crying, "Qoax! 9 He ate part of the Deer's meat, and con 
cealed the rest under the stones. 

Then he returned home and lay down. He thought, 'What shall I do 
next?' He made up his mind to travel. After some time he reached a 
house, the door of which was open. He stepped in and looked about. 
He saw that the house was full of dried fish, which was moving as 
though women were working at it; but he did not see anybody. Then 
he went out and called his sisters, Crow, Mouse, Gull, and Rat. He 
told them what he had seen, and asked them to help him carry away 
the provisions. He said, C I do not see any people; but implements mov 
ing by themselves are at work on the provisions.' They entered the 
house, and the Raven took the fish down from the drying-frames, and 
asked his sisters to pack it into baskets and to carry it away. After he 
had thrown all the fish down, he descended to the floor of the house, 
and intended to go out; but he felt himself held by arms and feet, and 
was beaten without mercy. His sisters were treated in the same man 
ner. . . . Then he found that the Echo inhabited this house. 

He returned home, and thought what to do next. He was hungry, 
and was glad when after a little while a small Waterfowl invited him 
to his house. He accepted the invitation, and sat down near the fire. 
Then the fowl took a box, held his foot over it, and cut his ankle with 
a stone knife. At once salmon-eggs fell down into the box, filling it en 
tirely. The Raven ate, and carried home to his sisters what was left 

On the next morning a woman named Young Seal invited him to 
a feast. He sat down near the fire, and she took a dish. She cleaned it, 
placed it near the fire, and held her hands over it. Then grease dropped 
down into the dish, filling it entirely. She gave it to the Raven, who ate 
heartily, and took home to his sisters what was left over. 

On the following day a Bird invited him to a feast. He placed a box 
near the fire and sang. ... At once the box was full of salmon- 
berries. The Raven ate, and carried home to his sisters what was left 

Now he resolved to invite the Waterfowl. On the following day the 
bird came. Then the Raven took a box, put his foot into it, and cut 


his ankle, but nothing came out of it. And he said to the Waterfowl, 'Go 
tack! I have nothing to give you.' In the evening he made up his mind 
to invite Young Seal. He felt his hands all the time, to see if fat were 
dripping from them. On the next morning he invited her. He placed a 
mat for her near the fire, took a dish, cleaned it, and placed it on the 
mat. Then he held his hands over the dish, but not a particle of fat 
dripped out of them. His hands, however, were burnt to a crisp by the 
heat of the fire. Then he said to Young Seal, 'Go back! I have no food 
for you.' Then he invited the Bird. He placed a box near the fire, and 
tried to sing the Bird's song; but there was only a single berry in the 
box. He continued, but did not succeed any better. Finally he sang, 
'Menk,' and the box was full of excrements. 

On the following day he made up his mind to marry the Sockeye 
Salmon. He said to his sisters, 'Let us go to the Salmon country. I want 
to marry the Sockeye Salmon.' His sisters went with him in his canoe. 
They travelled westward. When they reached the country of the Salmon, 
he told his sisters that he intended to carry away the chief's daughter, 
and he ordered them to make holes in the canoes of all the Salmon by 
pulling out the filling of the knot-holes. Then they went up to the house 
where he was invited, and feasted. After they had eaten, the Raven pre 
pared to carry to his canoe the food that was left over. He said to the 
chiefs daughter, 'Will you please help me to carry my food to the 
canoe?' She did so, accompanying him down to the beach. He went 
aboard, and asked the girl to step into the water, in order to reach the 
canoe more easily. He induced her to step farther and farther, and 
finally took her into his canoe. Then his sisters struck the sides of the 
canoe with the palms of their hands, and it went off by itself. The 
Salmon rushed to their canoes in order to pursue them; but after they 
had gone a short distance, their canoes foundered. 

The Raven and his sisters carried away the young woman, and 
reached their home safely. The woman had beautiful long hair. Her 
husband asked her, 'Where did you get that long hair?' She replied, 
'I pulled it and made it grow.' Then the Raven said, 'Oh, please pull my 
hair too, and make it grow!' 'No,' she said, 'I don't want to do it. If I 
should do so, your hair would become entangled in the salmon there 
drying over the fire, and you would pull them down.' But the Raven 
insisted. Finally she grew angry, and said, 'Well, I will pull your hair.' 
She did so, and the Raven found that it reached down to his shoulders; 
but he was not satisfied, he wanted to have it longer. Then she pulled 
it until it reached down to his waist, but still he was not satisfied. He 
insisted, until finally she made it as long as her own 'hair. Then the 


Raven arose, intending to show himself to the people. While he was 
going out of the house, he moved his head from side to side, so that 
his hair flew about. When he passed under the drying salmon, they 
became entangled in his hair. He tried to pull it out, and finally suc 
ceeded. Then he went out and showed himself to the people. Soon he 
re-entered ; and since he was still moving his head from side to side, his 
hair again became entangled in the salmon. He tried to disengage him 
self, but found it very difficult. Then he grew impatient, and said to 
the salmon, 4 I don't want to catch you a second time,' and threw them 
out of the house. Then his wife arose and said, T refused to make your 
hair long, but you insisted. I knew that you would maltreat the salmon.' 
With this she jumped into the water, and all the salmon followed her. 
They swam back to the country of the Salmon, and the Raven lost his 
long hair. Then he was very sad. 2 

As already stated, the Bella Coola Olympus is extraordinarily elab 
orate and systematized. Boas is inclined to explain this feature by the 
fact that the Bella Coola were stimulated towards this elaboration of 
their ideas about the supernatural world by the impact of new beliefs 
and thoughts which overwhelmed them when they reached their new 
coastal home, and he offers the suggestion that the process of systema 
tizing their mythology may have taken place 'very rapidly.' This is, 
of course, a conjecture, but if true it would account for this unusual 
effort of the imagination. Boas also suggests that the endogamy of the 
Bella Coola villages could be accounted for by the social factors that 
came into play after the Bella Coola migrated to the coast. Having 
developed a high regard for the clan traditions of their neighbours, 
they may have felt the need to preserve these in the local units which 
constituted the basis of their social organization. Taking into account 
the habits of the Bella Coola, Boas believes that this purpose was 
attained by them by placing a prohibition on marriage outside of the 
local group, that is, by endogamy. 8 

2 Franz Boas, 'The Mythology of the Bella Coola Indians,' Jesup North Pacific 
Expedition, vol. I, pp. 90-95. 

3 Boas notes here that the southern Kwakiutl, who also were originally organized 
upon the basis of village communities, later adopted the institution of exogamy. 
He accounts for this difference in solving the problem by the pre-existing dif 
ference in the organization of the village communities among the Bella Coola 
and the KwakiutL Among the Bella Coola we generally find four ancestors in each 
village, three men and one woman. While these generally are referred to as 
brothers and sisters, they were separately created by the Sun and need therefore 
not be considered as blood relatives. Among the Kwakiutl, on the other hand, the 
village community is regarded as descended from a single personage. Conse 
quently, among the Kwakiutl the village-mates are all relatives and therefore for 
bidden to intermarry, whereas among the Bella Coola they are not relatives and 


Baganda Deities 

Our next sketch of a tribal religion refers to the Baganda, an African 
tribe situated in the proximity of the equator in the eastern section of the 
continent. Like many of their Bantu-speaking neighbours, the Baganda 
engage in both agriculture and herding; their crafts are highly diversi 
fied and specialized, and include smelting and use of iron, characteristic 
of many African tribes. The political organization of Uganda-land is 
centralized, with a king at its head, as we shall see in the sequel. 

The religious ideas and customs of the Baganda were elaborate. Here 
we find gods, both local and national, fetishes, ghosts, amulets and 
other 'medicines.' Among the religious officials were priests whose 
duties were usually associated with the temples of the national gods, 
and medicine-men who plied their craft somewhat aside from the estab 
lished religious routine. 

The worship of the national gods stood in direct control of the 
king, and the principal function of these gods was the protection of his 
person as well as of the Uganda state. In hours of need the king sent 
messengers to the gods to consult and propitiate them. At the same time, 
when a particular god displeased him, he would, with truly royal 
temerity, send out his emissaries to loot the god's temple and estate. 
Each of the national gods had a temple dedicated to it which was usu 
ally situated on a hill-top on one of the gentile estates. The headman of 
the gens owning the estate was in charge of the temple with its allot 
ment of lands. Sometimes this man was also the chief priest of the 
temple and as such responsible for the safety and good conduct of the 
attendant slaves, the cattle, and the god. In some of the temples there 
were as many as four priests. One of the duties of the chief priest was 
to receive the persons who wanted to commune with the god, accept 
their offerings, and bring their message to the god himself. The god's 
answer took the form of an oracle given through a medium (of this 
more presently) . Though each priestship was hereditary within a gens, 
a son of a priest did not always succeed his father; instead, the successor 
was appointed by the gens, subject to approval or rejection by the king. 

Both the priest and the medium were sacred personages and any of 
fence committed against them was punishable by death. They had a 
house situated in the neighbourhood of the temple in which they kept 
their sacred regalia and where they robed and disrobed, rather elab 
orate performances surrounded by considerable decorum and sanctity. 

are free to intermarry. Though conjectural, this explanation makes the situation com 


The god's choice was gathered from the following symptoms: The per 
son in question was suddenly possessed (presumably hy the god). He 
or she began to utter secret things and predict future events, positive 
evidence that the god was within the person. This possession was called 
'being married to the god,' while all subsequent possessions were re 
ferred to as 'being seized by the head.' As a rule, each god had only 
one medium, but in the case of Kibuka and Nende, the gods of war, 
there were several mediums, so that one or more could absent himself 
at any given time. The method used by a medium in anticipation of 
possession is described by Roscoe in the following words: 'When a 
medium wished to become possessed in order to give the oracle, he 
would smoke a sacred pipe, using in most instances the ordinary tobacco 
of the country. Sometimes a cup of beer was also given him before the 
pipe was handed to him to smoke. He sat in the temple, near the fire, 
and after smoking the pipe, remained perfectly silent, gazing steadily 
into the fire or upon the ground, until the spirit came upon him. Dur 
ing the time that a medium was under the influence of the god he was 
in a frenzied state, and his utterances were often unintelligible to any 
one except the priest, who was the interpreter. A priest often had to tell 
the medium afterwards what he had been talking about. As soon as the 
spirit of the god had left the medium, he became prostrated, and was 
allowed to sleep off the effects. When a woman was chosen to be the 
medium, she was separated from men, and had to observe the laws of 
chastity for the rest of her life; she was looked upon as the wife of 
the god.' 4 

In most temples there were a number of young girls who were dedi 
cated to the god. Their most important duty was to keep guard over 
the sacred fire, which had to be kept burning day and night. They also 
had to keep the material paraphernalia of the temple in good working 
order. The persons of these girls were sacred and they were not to be 
trifled with. These girls were brought to the temple when they were 
weaned, and represented the offering of parents who had prayed to the 
particular god for children, promising to devote them to his service if 
their request was granted. Such a girl remained in oftce until puberty, 
whereupon the god decided whom she was to marry. Presently she was 
removed from the temple, because no woman was permitted to enter 
a temple or have any dealings with the god during her period of men 
struation. It is for this reason that the office of temple virgin was re 
stricted to immature girls. When the medium was a woman she was not 

* J. Roscoe, The Baganda, p. 275. (By permission of The Macmillan Company, 


permitted to perform her temple duties during her menstrual period. 

The medicine-men of the Baganda, though not connected with either 
temples or gods, constituted an influential group and were much 
feared; their power in fact was greater than that of the priests and 
mediums, even though its exercise was not associated with the pomp 
and formality amidst which the priest performed his functions. A num 
ber of medicine-men were connected with each gens. These men were 
distinguished by their skill and cunning; they were good judges of 
human character and expert in the practice of their secret arts. They 
could diagnose illness, prescribe for the sick, and in particular could 
deal with cases of sickness caused by ghosts. They were also reputed for 
their surgical prowess. They manufactured fetishes and amulets which 
they sold to the people; and as the demand for such things was great, 
a medicine-man was a busy individual. As already stated, medicine 
men were generally feared, even priests sharing in this attitude. 

Turning now to the gods themselves, I shall describe the principal 
ones among them. The highest god in Uganda was Mukasa. He was 
a good and kindly god; no human sacrifices were offered to him, the 
god being satisfied with animal gifts which were made to him at 
the yearly festivals or whenever the king or a chief wished to confer 
with him. He was regarded as the god of plenty who assured ample 
food, cattle, and children to the people. From an examination of 
Baganda legends one might conclude that Mukasa, like some of the 
other Baganda gods, was once a human being reputed for his benign 
character, who on that account came to be regarded as a god. The 
historicity of these legends should, however, not be taken too seriously, 
as Roscoe seems inclined to do. Mukasa' s temple was situated on Bu- 
bembe Island in Lake Victoria Nyanza, but there were also smaller 
temples dedicated to him in different parts of the country. In these 
temples Mukasa's sacred emblem was a paddle. The chief temple on 
Bubembe, however, had no such paddle; instead, it is said, there was 
once a large meteoric stone in that temple which was turned to the 
east or the west according to the faces of the moon. The chief priest 
of Mukasa was the one associated with the Bubembe temple, to which 
only the king, a leading chief, or the followers of the god on the island 
itself could come for aid,. 

According to tradition, as I said, Mukasa was once a man. The story 
of his life, of which several varieties are told, runs about like this. 
'Mukasa, we are told, was the son of Wanema, whom the people on the 
island call Mirawa; ... his younger brother, Kibuka, became the 
famous war god. Wanema was also a god, though of little note in 


comparison with his sons, Mukasa and Kibuka. Before his birth, Mu- 
kasa's mother, Nambubi, is said to have refused to touch any food 
except a special kind of ripe plantains, . . . cooked food she would not 
eat. When the boy was born she gave him the name Selwanga. When 
he had been weaned, he refused to eat ordinary food, but ate the heart 
and liver of animals and drank their blood. While still a child, he 
disappeared from home, leaving no trace behind him as to his where 
abouts, but subsequently he was found on the island of Bubembe, sit 
ting under a large tree near the lake. Some people saw him as they 
passed the place, and told the elders of the village, who went to see 
him and to find out who he was; they concluded that he had come from 
Bukasa, and called him a 'Mukasa' (that is, a person from the island 
of Bukasa) , and this name attached itself to him from that time. 

'One of the men who went to see him, named Semagumba, told his 
companions that he could not leave the boy on the shore all night, so 
he carried him to the garden and placed him upon a rock, until they 
could decide where he was to go. The people were afraid to take him 
into their houses, because they said that he must be superhuman to have 
thus come to their island; so it was decided that a hut should be built 
for him near to the rock on which he was seated, and that Semagumba 
should take care of him. They were at a loss what to give him to eat 
because he refused all sorts of things which they brought to him; at 
length they happened to kill an ox, and he at once asked for the 
blood, the liver, and heart, though he refused any of the meat which 
they offered him. This confirmed the people in their opinion that he 
was a god, and they consulted him about any illness, and sought his 
advice when they were in trouble. Semagumba became chief priest, 
while Gugu and Sebadide, who had been his assistants, also became 
priests; the names of these men became the official names of later 
priests. For many years (according to the statements of some people, 
for 14 generations), Mukasa continued to live in the hut which they 
had built for him, and the priests cared for him. He married three 
wives. . . . There are differences of opinion as to the end of the god; 
some say that he died and was buried on the island, in the forest near 
the temple, while others affirm that he disappeared as suddenly as he 
had come.' 5 

There were three priests connected with Mukasa's temple: Sema 
gumba, who was the chief priest, Gugu, and Sebadide. When one of the 
priests died the remaining two instructed the new incumbent in his 
rliiti*e WVi<an <*itVpr of these priests officiated his attire consisted of 


two well-dressed bark cloths, one knotted over each shoulder. In addi 
tion he had nine white goat-skins tied around his waist. The priests 
shaved their hair, each of the three having his own coiffure. Sema- 
gumba left a patch of hair on the right side at the back of the head 
which was allowed to grow long and into which coloured beads were 
plaited. Gugu allowed his hair to grow long on the top of his head and 
wore it plaited with beads and cowry shells. Sebadide wore his hair like 
Semagumba only that his unshaved tuft was smaller and no ornaments 
were plaited into it. In connection with the temple there were two 
sacred drums, the larger one of the two having human bones for drum 
sticks. The method of procuring these bones was as follows: 'A chief 
named Sekadu was sent from the island Busiro with a canoe to the 
mainland, to a place named Sango, between the islands Zinga and Busi. 
On his arrival there, the canoe was beached and a bunch of ripe 
plantains was placed on the prow, as though the canoemen were about 
to ship them; the men then went off to the gardens, leaving one of their 
number in hiding to watch the canoe. If a man came and took some 
of the fruit, he was caught, bound, and placed in the canoe; if a woman 
came and attempted to take the fruit, she was driven away by the man 
in hiding. After capturing their prisoner, the men were obliged to row to 
the island Kibi without stopping; here they might spend the night, and 
on the following day they rowed to a small island Kaziri, where the 
captive was landed and put to death by having his throat cut. The body 
was left lying on the ground with a guard to protect it against croco 
diles or birds, until the flesh decayed. When the shin-bones were quite 
clean and bleached, the guard took them to Bubembe, and handed 
them to the priest Semagumba, who beat the drum two or three blows 
with them and then handed them to Sendowoza, the man in charge 
of the drum. The drum (Betobanga) was beaten for the annual festival, 
on which occasion the rhythm had to be kept up at intervals by day 
and by night until the end of the festival; the drum also announced the 
appearance of the new moon, warned the people of the monthly cessa 
tion from work, and made known when any special festival was to be 
held, as for instance, when the king sent to consult the god/ 6 

The medium of Mukasa was a woman. When she was about to be 
come possessed she dressed like one of the priests except that she had 
eighteen instead of nine goat-skins around her waist. She smoked a 
pipe of tobacco until the god came upon her; then she began talking 
in a shrill voice and announced what was to be done. While giving 
the oracle she sat over a sacred fire, perspiring very freely and foam- 

6 J. Roscoe, The Baganda, pp. 296-297. 


ing at the mouth. Upon the delivery of the oracle and after the god 
had left her, she lay prostrate for a time, very fatigued. While giving 
the oracle she had a stick in her hand with which she struck the ground 
to give emphasis to her words. 

Next to Mukasa the most important god was Kibuka, who, as we al 
ready know, was once a brother of the real Mukasa. He was the god of 
war. His temple stood on Sese Island, where Kibuka had once lived. 
In this temple were preserved the jaw-bone, the umbilical cord, copper 
ax, spear, and a number of other things which had once belonged to the 
real Kibuka. Kibuka's temple was very luxuriously fitted out, as this 
god was very wealthy. The temple was surrounded on three sides by a 
thick forest, whereas the fourth side faced a large open space. All around 
it for some distance lay the gardens of the priests and of the god's 
retainers. The king and his most powerful chiefs were constantly of 
fering him men and women slaves. Whenever the king wished to con 
sult Kibuka, he sent a present of slaves and cattle. The slaves sent by 
the king to Kibuka were prisoners who had presumably committed 
some offence. They were given an opportunity to state their case before 
the god, although there is no record of their ever having been ac 
quitted. After visiting the temple, these persons were taken away by 
the head of the police, named Sabata, to a tree near by on which their 
outer clothes were hung; then they were given a special kind of doc 
tored beer to drink so as to prevent their ghosts from injuring the 
king. After they had drunk the beer they were led to the sacrificial 
place where they were either speared or clubbed to death, their bodies 
being left to lie where they fell for the wild beasts and birds to do 
the rest. In certain instances when Kibuka was particularly incensed 
against a prisoner, the latter was put to death at once in the temple 
the medium, still possessed by the god, seized the spear and ran it 
through the man as he knelt pleading his cause. 

There were many other gods: Nende, the second god of war; 
Kaumpuli, the god of the plague; Dangu, the god of the chase; and Ka- 
tonda, also called the Creator. It is interesting to note that this last god, 
who was referred to as c the father of the gods' and was believed to have 
created all things, was yet treated with relatively scant attention. Offer 
ings of cattle were occasionally made to him, some of which might be put 
to death, but the majority were decorated with a bell around the 
neck and were allowed to roam about during the day, while at night 
they were brought to one of the huts. 7 

7 This god apparently belongs to the category discussed by us as the All-Father; 
at any rate, Katonda combines the two traits characteristic of All-Fathers: he is 


Still other gods were Kitaka, the earth god; Musisi, the god of 
earthquakes; and Wamala, to whom human sacrifices were made. The 
victims were clubbed to death on the lake-shore and speared and thrown 
into the lake. It is said that the waters used to turn crimson with the 
blood of the victims by the time the sacrifices were ended. There was 
also Walumbe, the god of death. The king alone made offerings to this 
god, at the bidding of the other gods, to prevent Walumbe from killing 
the people. 

The story is told about a man, Mpobe, who was following a rat 
with his dogs, until he was led into a hole into which the rat had fled. 
There he met Death, who permitted him to return to the surface on 
condition that he should not tell anyone of what had occurred to him. 
When he came home he at first refused to speak, but his mother in 
sisted on hearing his tale, until finally he agreed to tell her a little 
provided that she would not tell anyone. In the evening when it was 
dark Mpobe heard someone calling him, 'Mpobe! Mpobe!' and he 
replied, 'I am here. What do you want? 5 Death said, 'What did I tell 
you?' Mpobe said, 'You told me not to tell what I had seen in this 
place, and, Sir (sic!), I have only told my mother a little.' To which 
Death responded, 1 will leave you then to settle up your affairs. You 
must die when you have expended your property.' After a while Death 
called to him and asked if he had consumed everything. Mpobe said he 
had not and tried to hide away in the forest, but Death said: 'Mpobe, 
why are you hiding in the forest? Do you think I cannot see you?' 
He tried to hide in all sorts of places, but Death always discovered him. 
Finally Death came to him and asked, 'Mpobe, have you finished your 
wealth?' and he replied, 'I have finished it all.' So Death took him. 
Hence comes the saying, 'Being worried into telling a secret killed 

In addition to the gods there were various spirits connected with 
animals, rivers, and hills. Certain hills regarded as sacred were asso 
ciated with the lion spirit; others with the leopard spirit. Not even the 
king nor any of his messengers might venture upon these hills. It is 
for this reason that whenever the king sent his men to rob or plunder 
the people, they would escape to one of these hills and wait there until 
the king's party had withdrawn. 

A fetish was usually an artificial object, or sometimes a natural one 

the mast important of all gods, in so far as he has created all things, but also 
not much is known about him; he steers clear of any dealings with humans, and 
practically no worship is extended to him. 


of uncommon shape. Ordinarily the mere possession of a fetish was 
sufficient to ward off evil. Hence numbers of such fetishes were kept 
in a certain place in each house and had drink placed before them 
daily by the owner's wife. Some fetishes were made of wood or of clay 
mixed with other substances after a recipe known to the medicine-men 
and to them alone. These fetishes were moulded into different shapes by 
which they were known to the people. Some were kidney-shaped, others 
shaped like crescents, while still others were large disks with a hole in 
the centre. A warrior had his fetish and so had a huntsman, each with 
its special powers. Even a thief had his fetish, which enabled him to 
enter undetected any house which he wished to rob. Some of the more 
elaborate fetishes enjoyed a more than local prestige. 

Ghosts were universally believed in. The ghosts of humans were 
thought to be patterned after the bodies of those whose ghosts they be 
came. As a consequence people stood in great horror of being mutilated, 
for in addition to suffering the attendant pain and indignity, one had to 
anticipate that one's ghost would be similarly disfigured. Some people 
said that they preferred to die with a limb rather than to live without 
it, thus losing their chance of possessing full powers in the other world 
where the ghosts dwelt. Ghosts were not by any means uniformly hostile; 
they had their likes and dislikes and could be appeased by kindness and 
made angry by neglect. One could not, therefore, disregard them. A 
favourite place of ghosts was among the trees in the gardens, where 
they liked to amuse themselves, especially at noon when the sun shone 
brightly. 8 For this reason children were warned against going out to 
play in the gardens in the heat of the day, and even adults were careful 
not to do so unless they could not help themselves. 

A ghost, it was thought, never lost its taste for the particular body it 
had once inhabited. Ghosts tended to hang about the graves in which 
the bodies lay buried, nor would they go far away from the spot unless 
the body or part of it were removed. The part with which they were 
particularly associated was the lower jaw-bone. If this was taken away 
the ghost would go with it to any distance, and remain there, if properly 
honoured. On this account the lower jaw-bones of men have for genera 
tions been treated by the Baganda as a privileged part of their anatomy. 
The jaw-bones of men who lived nearly a thousand years ago were still 

8 This idea of the predilection of ghosts for the noon-time hour strikes us as 
peculiar because our ghosts seem to prefer the hour of midnight. It is, however, to 
be noted that the association of the noon hour with ghosts is also widely prevalent 
among the Mediterranean peoples of Europe. 


preserved by members of the gens to which these men once belonged. 
The jaw-bones of kings were, of course, treated with particular care and 
handed down from generation to generation. 

The ghosts of ordinary people received less consideration, but they 
also played their part in the life of the community. The belief was that 
all ghosts first went to Tandu, a place where they had to give an account 
of their doings in the flesh. After they had paid their respects to 
Walumbe, the god of death, they were permitted to return to their own 
burial grounds. As a rule ghosts were not malevolent; on the contrary, 
they were wont to assist the members of the gens to which they had be 
longed. Only the ghosts of a man's sisters were regarded as trouble 
some, especially with reference to his children. Here a medicine-man 
came in good stead. After consulting an oracle, he was able to discover 
which particular ghost was the source of the trouble and what methods 
should be used to appease it. If a ghost's grave had been neglected, an 
offering of a goat or even of a cow had to be made in extenuation of the 
slight. These animals were not killed but were permitted to live and 
roam about in the vicinity of the ghost's shrine. They could not be sold. 
When a house was haunted by a ghost, a medicine-man was able to re 
move it. He would arrive equipped with an empty vessel and a bag of 
fetishes by means of which he was able to induce the ghost to enter the 
vessel. As such a domestic ghost always resided at the highest point of 
the house, it had to be brought down. The medicine-man, working in the 
dark, emitted sounds which seemed to come from the ghost on the top 
of the house, and later from the vessel. Then he would carry the cap 
tured ghost off to some wasteland, leaving it there to be burned by the 
next grass fire, or he would throw the vessel with the ghost into a stream 
and permit it to perish in this way. 

It seems that animal ghosts were not general, but some animals like 
lions, leopards, and crocodiles, were believed to turn into ghosts after 
their deaths, and these were worshipped in certain localities. Sheep also 
had their ghosts. The method of killing sheep was therefore different 
from that used in the case of goats, whose throats were cut. A sheep was 
led by a man to an open space, while another man stood behind it. When 
it was not looking, it was struck on the head with the handle of an ax 
and stunned, whereupon its throat was cut. The reason given for this 
procedure was that, if a sheep saw the man who was about to kill it, the 
sheep's ghost would cause him to fall ill and die. 

There were certain places which had for generations been devoted to 
human sacrifices. There were thirteen such places in the country, each 
with its peculiar usages with reference to the ways the victims were 


put to death. All sacrificial places had their custodians, while some 
also had temples with priests and retinues. The custodian always kept a 
large pot which was usually distinguished by a number of mouths. When 
victims were sent in for sacrifice, this pot was brought out, full of medi 
cated beer which the victims were forced to drink, it being considered 
that this gave the king control of the victim's ghost, or prevented it from 
coming back and haunting or hurting the people or the king himself. 
Two methods were employed to supply the sacrificial places with vic 
tims. Some of these were men or women who had committed some of 
fence and had been apprehended, but others were innocent people who 
had been caught in the open road 'by order of the gods,' so as to make 
up the number of persons required for the sacrifice. The office of execu 
tioner was a very popular one, for there was an opportunity for enrich 
ment at the expense of the possible victims, some of whom were spared, 
for a price; others were promised to be dispatched without undue pain 
or torture. At the sacrifices specifically ordered by the king, the num 
ber of people thus done away with varied from two to five hundred. The 
relatives of a condemned man might try to influence the king to release 
him. If the request was accompanied by an offering of a good-looking 
girl or a large number of cattle, the gift might prove acceptable, and 
the prisoner was released. The sacrificial place, Nakinzire, on Seguku 
Hill in Busiro, had its temple and a medium who was the son of a prin 
cess and as such should have been put to death, according to the amiable 
Baganda custom. This medium was possessed by a leopard. When under 
the influence of the leopard ghost, he growled and rolled his eyes. The 
victims were either clubbed or speared to death. If they were tortured, 
their flesh was cut off with splinters of reeds which were sharp and cut 
like razor-blades. The flesh was pinched up and cut off over the body. 
Afterwards the victims were killed. These executions at times extended 
for a whole week because the executioners became weary and went off 
to drink beer and talk things over. The bodies of the victims were never 
removed from the places where they fell, but were permitted to remain 
for wild animals or birds to feed upon. 

Sometimes an ordeal was used to test the guilt of a person. This 
method of ascertaining guilt deserves attention on account of its wide 
spread use in Africa and, incidentally, in Mediaeval Europe. The priest 
attached to Kibuka's temple administered the poison test. He gave to 
each of the two disputants a cup of a drug obtained by boiling the root 
of the datura plant, then made both sit down at a little distance, while 
the drug was taking effect. Then he called to the two men to get up, step 
over a plantain stem and come over to him. If one of them was able to 


do this, the case was decided in his favour; if both failed, they were 
pronounced equally guilty; if both succeeded, they were deemed in 
nocent. Another test was to use a heated piece of iron or the blade of a 
hoe. Each disputant brought with him a bunch of grass which the priest 
passed over a hot iron. If one bunch was burned and not the other, the 
one whose bunch was burned was considered guilty. Or again the priest 
would make the disputants sit down and pass the hot iron down each 
man's leg from the knee to the foot. The man who was burned was the 
guilty one. 9 

Ceremonial and Religious Life of the Incas 

Before broaching the state ceremonialism of the Incas, it will be fit 
ting to cast a brief glance at their family. 

Bachelorhood and spinsterhood in persons past marrying age were 
almost non-existent among the Incas; practically everyone was married 
at least once and many were married repeatedly. Polygyny was prac 
tised, and in the upper classes it was general. The first woman whom 
a man married or received, either in the ordinary course of things or as 
a reward for valour, became his wife-in-chief and such she remained 
until his death. She was the only woman whom he married with any 
pomp, provided, of course, he belonged to the upper class. Having re 
ceived his bride at the hand of the Inca or his representative official, he 
led her to the house of her father, accompanied by a throng of his kin- 
folk. At the father's house the bride's relatives were waiting; in the 
presence of the two groups of relatives, the father now handed her over 
to the groom. Then the young man knelt down and shod his bride's 

9 Like the Baganda political organization (see p. 387) , the organized religion of 
these people bears evidence of a cultural situation made possible by a vast popu 
lation and the great power of the king and his henchmen, rendered relatively safe 
by their retinues of body-guards. It will have been observed how intimately the 
person and influence of the king are associated with the highly ramified and local 
ized forms of this religion. The same applies to the methods of treating victims 
and other executions so common in Uganda. As between torture and torture, the 
difference may perhaps not be significant. Still, the constant placing of human 
lives at the call of a king's whim is a feature not to be found in more primitive 
societies which are usually greatly concerned with the preservation of their num 
bers, and whose chieftains, being in more constant and direct contact with 
their subordinates, are more sensitive of public opinion, and could not afford, 
even if they chose, to try the patience of their subjects further than just so far, 
without forfeiting their prestige or their very office. In this respect, to repeat, as 
in certain items of their socio-political organization, these African customs diffei 
from those of more primitive groups and come closer to the social conditions char 
acteristic of later historic cultures, with their barbarisms, privileges, and despotisms 


right foot with a sandal of wool, if she was a maiden, or with one of 
ichu grass, if she was a widow. After the ceremony which signified that 
the bridegroom accepted the bride as his wife-in-chief, he led her to 
their future home, which had by this time been prepared for them, the 
relatives following after them. Having arrived there, the bride took 
from her girdle a shirt of fine wool, a fillet, and a breast ornament, 
which she handed to her husband, who donned them forthwith. From 
this moment until night was well advanced the young people were 
separated and kept busy by elder persons of their sexes who were ex 
pected to instruct them in the meaning and obligations of marriage. 
When the two parties reunited the festivities began which in due time 
tended to become an orgy. A woman so wedded, let me repeat, could 
never be repudiated nor abandoned, and while her husband lived, she 
remained his chief wife. It is also of interest that the ceremony was 
purely secular, no priest participating in it. When a man's first wife 
died, the man after a prolonged period of mourning was expected to 
take another chief wife from women outside of his household, this event 
also being accompanied by ceremonies similar to the preceding. Many 
writers on the Incas consider this a salutary custom, in so far as the 
secondary wives of the man had no occasion to quarrel among them 
selves as to who would become his next chief wife, for none of them 
could expect that this privilege would be bestowed upon them. 

There were various methods of acquiring secondary wives. The sons 
of high-born parents were placed in the care of nursemaids, who at 
tended to their needs while they were still young, and later on initiated 
them into the mysteries of sex. When the wards married, these nurse 
maids remained as their concubines. If an orphan boy was given in to 
the care of a childless widow whose duty it was to bring him up, it was 
customary for her also to become, in due time, one of his concubines. 
Women captured in war were other candidates for this position. The Inca 
himself was wont to confer upon valorous fighters such secondary wives, 
whom he drew from the imperial supplies of women, which were al 
ways ample. 

While such were the customs in the upper classes, the inhabitants of 
the provinces were dealt with less ceremoniously. The official in charge 
of each village periodically assembled the youths and maidens of mar 
riageable age into two groups and then paired them off into couples. 
It is, however, made clear by the Spanish writers that personal inclina 
tion was not altogether left out of consideration, and that couples who 
had previously been attracted by each other were given a chance, on 
these occasions, to have their unions socially sanctified. 


The period of childhood, in so far as it can be disentangled from a 
maze of incomplete data, was not a happy one. Children were treated 
either with excessive severity or with equally excessive indulgence. By 
and large, the facts were about as follows: When a woman was at the 
point of giving birth, she and her husband fasted, the wife also making 
a confession of her transgressions and proffering propitiatory prayers 
to the minor deities. When the time for birth was at hand, the woman 
went into isolation for a brief period, and gave birth without as much 
as the assistance of a midwife. With the new-born infant in her arms she 
was expected presently to proceed to the nearest stream and wash her 
self and the baby, no matter how cold the air or water might be (a prac 
tice which persists in this region until the present day). The infant was 
permitted to feed at the breast only three times a day, early in the morn 
ing, at noon, and at sundown, the Incas having noted that animals 
suckled their young at fixed times, and holding that greater frequency 
of feeding would induce vomiting and make the baby gluttonous when it 
grew up. Wet-nursing was resorted to only in cases where the mother's 
health made it necessary. During the nursing period the mother had to 
abstain from sexual intercourse, for fear that this would have a bad 
effect on her milk and render the baby anaemic. When the baby was able 
to crawl it took its meals kneeling at one side of the mother's breast 
while the latter bent over it, and whenever it wanted to feed from the 
other breast it had to crawl around the mother on its hands and knees, 
for it was never permitted on her lap. It was customary for a mother 
to carry the child on her back, swathed in a shawl together with its 
cradle, a custom probably even less pleasant for the infant than it was 
for the mother. When the child outgrew its cradle it was wrapped in any 
cloth that lay handy and placed in a hole dug in the ground which came 
up to its arm pits; there it was left to jump and kick as well as amuse 
itself with whatever toys the mother may have left within its reach. The 
ceremonies which graced the early childhood years, such as the first cut 
ting of its hair and nails by means of sharpened stones, or the name- 
giving ritual, were as secular as the rites of marriage, no person of 
priestly station officiating on these occasions. 

We may now pass to a consideration of the more elaborate public 
ceremonials of the Inca state. 

Ritualism, as we saw, provides one of the universal settings of 
religion. It is to be observed in addition that in highly centralized so 
cieties, either primitive or modern, ritualism tends to run high. Such was 
the case among the Peruvians. The state festivals of the Incas were 
known according to the months into which they fell. During the month 


Intip Raimi, beginning with the June solstice, was held the great 
Feast-of-the-Sun. At Cuzco, where the ceremonies were naturally most 
imposing, the rites were in part conducted by the Sapa Inca himself, 
as the Sun's first-born, and in part by the Villac Umu, high priest of the 
Sun, who was the Inca's uncle or brother. Provincial officials from all 
parts of the Empire, each one attended by an impressive retinue, assem 
bled at Cuzco to pay homage to their chief divinity. Those from cer 
tain mountain districts came in robes fashioned from puma-skins; from 
the East and North came others adorned in gorgeous raiments of bril 
liant bird plumage; from the coastal states came still others attired in 
finely woven cotton cloths of many colours. The outstanding visitors 
among all were the chiefs, who came rigged out in condor costumes pro 
vided with outstretched wings. This highly picturesque company fore 
gathered in the capitol from which all strangers of low degree were 
temporarily expelled. The rituals themselves took place in the Huaca 
Pata (Holy Terrace or Great Square) , where the Inca himself par 
ticipated, while persons of lesser station held similar rituals on the 
Cusi Pata (Joy Terrace) from which the major ritual on the Holy Ter 
race could easily be observed. On this occasion a black llama was for 
mally sacrificed. It was placed with its head to the East; while four Incas 
sat upon it to keep it still, its left side was slashed open by the officiat 
ing priest, who plunged his hands into the wound and drew forth the 
still living heart, lungs, and gullet, all of which had to be removed 
entire and without cutting. These entrails were supposed to have great 
prognostic value. If the lungs, in particular, were still palpitating when 
separated from the victim's body, the omen was regarded as favourable 
and the ceremony proceeded with enhanced zeal. After the sacrifice of 
the black llama, many other animals were offered to the Sun, their 
flesh being subsequently distributed and consumed by people in widely 
separated districts. It was held that the fire used for the sacrifice should 
be new and derived directly from the Sun. For this purpose a large 
bracelet called chipana was employed, like those usually worn on the 
left wrist. The bracelet held by the high priest had on it a highly pol 
ished concave plate about the diameter of an orange. This was held at 
an angle towards the Sun to permit the reflected rays to concentrate on 
one point where some cotton wool had been placed, which presently 
became ignited. At the conclusion of the more sacred rites and after 
ample food had been partaken of, drinking began, which started in an 
orderly enough fashion but presently gathered momentum, usually to 
assume the character of an orgy before much time had elapsed. 

The second month (July 22 to about the same date in August) was 


mainly devoted to brewing and to cleaning or repairing the irrigation 
ditches. The third month, Yapaquiz (August 22 to September 22), was 
the month of sowing, during which a festival was held called huayara. 
On this occasion fifteen brown llamas were sacrificed, the animals be 
ing selected from the flocks of the Sun and those of the Inca. In this 
month the farms belonging to the Sun were ploughed with special rites 
by priests and priestesses. As they worked they were accompanied by a 
white llama with golden ornaments in its ears, and a great quantity of 
maize beer was sprinkled over the fields in its honour. When the sowing 
was completed a great sacrifice was held, consisting of the selfsame 
llamas and large numbers of other animals, the aim of the sacrifice be 
ing to propitiate the air, water, ice, and thunder, in order that they 
might favour the crops. 

The fourth month, or Coy a Raimi (September 22 to about October 
22), was devoted to the Moon cult, which was intended, among other 
things, to ward off sickness and other evils connected with the annual 
rains. On this, as on all similar occasions, all provincial persons, all 
individuals suffering from physical defects, and all dogs were cleared 
from the city of Cuzco, the first because they were not descendants of 
the moon, the second as unworthy to observe the festival, and the third 
because they were apt to bark or howl at untoward moments. During 
the ceremony that followed a great urn of gold was set up in the centre 
of the Temple Square into which, within the sight of all, quantities of 
maize beer were solemnly poured. Around this urn were stationed 400 
warriors in full war regalia, each group of 100 facing towards one of 
the cardinal points. Then, as the new moon made its appearance in the 
heavens, all present burst into loud cries: 'All sickness, disaster, mis 
fortunes, and perils, go forth from the land!' This cry was taken up in 
all parts of the city, and at that very moment the four groups of war 
riors began running rapidly in the directions they were facing, crying 
out while they ran: 'Go forth, all evils! go forth, all evils!' The warriors 
sped beyond the boundaries of the city into the country where the 
provincial folk were camped; they took up the shout, which was thus 
made to spread into the far-flung regions of the Empire. A little later 
the four groups of warriors, having run the appointed course, plunged 
into certain rivers which were known to flow into regions beyond the 
confines of the Inca state. There they bathed under the new moon's 
beams, so that the waters might carry evils and misfortunes out of the 
country. At the same time the whole populace were expected to bathe 
with appropriate rites to purify themselves for the coming year. 

Towards the close of the festival the provincial folk, who had been 


chased out of the city at the beginning of the festivities, were invited to 
come back. In groups of kindred they assembled on the Joy Terrace to 
observe the closing ceremonies of the season. Thirty spotless white 
llamas brought from every part of the Empire were now sacrificed on a 
fire composed of thirty bundles of saffron-scented quishular-wood. The 
fleece of these animals, which had never been shorn, and their flesh were 
used for various ceremonial purposes. 

Passing by the next two months, not so notable by way of ceremonies, 
we come to the seventh month or Capac Raimi (December 22 to about 
January 22). This was one of the most important months of the year, 
especially for the youths of the imperial castes of either sex, as in it 
were held the ceremonies which marked the entrance of boys into man 
hood. These rites, called huarachicu, were a sort of an ordeal, the pur 
pose of which was to test the virility, endurance, strength, and discipline 
of the youths. The ceremony was preceded by a course of instruction in 
the arts of war, the making and management of weapons, the manu 
facture of sandals and other equipment, which instruction was admin 
istered by elder Incas of ample and varied experience. At the conclusior 
of instruction and upon completing the examinations, the lads fasted 
for six days, during which time they took no nourishment save raw 
maize and water, after which they partook of ample food and were 
ready for the next act, which consisted of a race from Huanacauri Hill 
to the plain on the northern side of Sacsahuaman. Upon a hill in the 
neighbourhood of the latter place certain animals were segregated, a 
falcon, a vicuna, a fox, a humming bird, a vulture and an ostrich, the 
purpose and meaning of these creatures not being altogether clear to us. 
As the runners approached, they could see the Inca and his court sit 
ting to the right upon seats carved in the living rock. The first ten run 
ners were commended by the Inca, whereas those who came last were 
met with scorn and derision and were expected henceforth to wear a 
breech-clout of black cloth instead of the white ones trimmed with gay 
feathers which were donned by their more successful competitors. Then 
came a sort of sham battle; in this the youths successful in the race were 
divided into two armies, of which one held and the other attacked the 
fortress of Sacsahuaman. The next day their roles were exchanged. These 
exercises were regarded as part of their military training and were a 
mere preliminary to the principal rite called huarachicu. 

Finally the day of the major rites arrived. The Sapa Inca himself 
played the leading part in these. The crowning moment of the per 
formance was the piercing of the lads' ear-lobes (or at least the cere 
monial piercing, as the actual act had been performed two months pre- 


viously by the Inca himself, who used golden pins for the purpose) . 
To keep the holes open, ear-studs were fitted into them, which were sub 
sequently exchanged for larger and still larger ones, until by the time 
the boys had reached manhood, their ear-lobes became greatly enlarged 
because of the weight of the studs. It is for this reason that the Spaniards 
after the conquest were wont to designate members of the Imperial caste 
as orejon or big-ears. At the conclusion of the piercing rite each novice 
passed on to other officials, who dressed him in breech-clout and sandals, 
and furnished him with weapons. At the same time the youths were 
garlanded with cantut flowers, shaped like lilies and coloured yellow, 
purple, and red, and with chihuayhua plumes, which resemble yellow 
carnations. Upon their brows the lads wore wreaths of a plant called 
uinay huayna, meaning 'ever young.' 

In the eighth month, or Camay (January 22 to about February 22), 
other military ceremonies were held; these included sham fights with 
slings (fruit being used as missiles), also hand-to-hand combats, prob 
ably a sort of wrestling, the purpose of which was to test the arm mus 
cles of the contestants. The costumes worn during these proceedings 
consisted of black tunics under tawny-coloured mantles, and of head 
gear made from the white plumes of the ttucu, a kind of owl. On the 
day of the new moon a great number of old llamas from all four quar 
ters of the realm were assembled in the Great Square and there their ears 
were pierced by persons appointed thereto; after this these animals be 
came known as apu-rucu, or 'chief who is old.' On the day of the full 
moon, or the fifteenth of the month, a great multitude of people assem 
bled in the Great Square, before whom ten llamas of all colours were 
sacrificed to ensure the health of the Inca. This was followed by a night 
long dance performed throughout the city and terminating at dawn in 
the Square where ten costumes of the finest red and white cloth were 
burned, two each being offered to the major gods: Viracocha, the Sun, 
the Moon, Thunder, and Earth. Finally, two white baby llamas were 
sacrified for the health of the public at large. On this, the sixteenth day 
of the month, the priests brought to the Square the images of all the 
gods, both major and minor, as well as the mummies of the illustrious 
dead, all of which were arranged in certain places in the Square. At the 
same time another and most remarkable object was brought into the 
Square, a very long thick cable braided from wool coloured black, 
white, red, and yellow. This cable was known as huascar, meaning 
'cable' or 'rope,' or muru-urcu, or 'spotted male.* This rope was used in 
the following fashion, according to Means: The men lined up along 
one side of the huascar and women on the other, both sexes grasping it 


all along its great length in such a way that a long serpentine group of 
people was formed, with the brightly coloured rope running down the 
middle, its forward end heing a large hall of red wool, like a head. In 
this quaint formation the group solemnly marched around the edges of 
the square, partly no doubt to get the mum-urea stretched out to full 
length. As they passed in front of the idols and the Inca, the dancers 
made low oheisances which must have imparted an interesting undula 
tion to the group, as it moved along. Then, having surrounded the 
Square, the dancers gradually began to form a coil, slowly drawing in 
the convolutions as closely as possible. When this process was com 
pleted, they dropped the huascar upon the ground and went away from 
it, leaving it all curled up on the pavement like a monstrous serpent. Of 
all the rites of the Incas this dance of the cable must surely have been 
one of the most charming. The famous "golden chain" which was made 
towards the end of the Incaic period, to celebrate the birth of the ruler 
known as Huascar, was merely a rope such as that here described but 
one adorned most lavishly with strands of gold/ 10 

The ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth months also had their cere 
monies which, however, were not so important, nor have the relevant 
details been as carefully ascertained. 

After surveying these state ceremonies of the Incas, one is prompted 
to ask when the people had time to do anything else. The answer, of 
course, lies in the fact that participation in these rituals was largely 
restricted to the upper classes, often to those of the Imperial caste. The 
people at large, in the different parts of the Empire, knew of them only 
as occasional eyewitnesses or merely by hearsay. 

10 Philip Ainsworth Means, Ancient Civilizations of the Andes, pp. 383384. 
(Reprinted by permission of Charles Scribner's Sons.) 


Chapter XIX 

Groups of Status 

Man is a social animal. No matter how far down we go in culture 
there is society, always, and also some form of organization. In a sense, 
indeed, society antedates the individual. It is difficult to see how some 
of the more distinctive attributes of man, such as speech, and perhaps re 
ligion, could have originated in the absence of a social setting. Further, 
social submergence of the individual belongs to the very beginnings of 
human life on earth. 

If there is a social organization, there must be a basis on which it 
rests. Some writers are wont to ascribe the institution of social forms to 
the foresight and vision of wise and powerful men. It may be true, within 
limits, that deliberate intervention and control have played their part in 
socio-political history, but the basic forms of society have certainly not 
arisen in this way. Here we must turn to the natural factors implied in 
man's relations to his physical and social environment. The process, 
moreover, was as spontaneous as it was unconscious. Whatever later 
transformations may have occurred in society and politics, they were 
rooted in these basic forms some of which are as old as man, or older. 

Local Groups. What then were the factors in primitive life upon which 
the different forms of social organization were built? The first is 
locality. Man has always lived somewhere. 1 Perpetual vagrancy is not 

1 Here, as so often, man has been anticipated by animals. This is what Julian 
Huxley has to say about birds. Territory in some form or other is of prime 
biological importance in the life of birds (and probably of other groups as -well). 
The first sign of sexual activity ... is in most species seen in the instinct of 
the males, not, as has usually been assumed, to seek out the females, but to find, 
occupy, and defend a territory. So far as there is choice of mates, in monogamous 
species, it is by the females, who seek out the males; but they only compete for 
those males who are in possession of territory. Even when the pair is established 
in the area, the occasions when the female is the primary object of the male's 
actions is only during the so-called courtship, whose function is to stimulate the 
female psychically and bring her to the condition in which pairing may be ac 
complished; but both male and female, singly and as a pair, still react to the 
fact of territory, and are always active in its defence. Mr. Howard quotes an 


primitive. The restless mobility of modern Gipsies seems to be correlated 
with the permanently fixed habitats of a higher civilization. Neither the 
Gipsy of fact nor the Wandering Jew of fancy belongs to the beginnings 
of history. Whether in the snow-built villages of the Eskimo, in the 
woody recesses or grassland villages of African tribesmen, in the cave 
dwellings of prehistoric Europe or the sparse camps of the Australians, 
man, however primitive, always lived somewhere. There was some lo 
cality or a number of localities which he regarded as his home. If he 
did not live permanently in one place, neither did he wander from place 
to place indefinitely, but returned periodically to certain places within 
a more or less limited district. This is true, for example, of the Chukchee 
and Koryak of northeastern Siberia and the Indians of the Pacific North 
west, whose habitats pulsate with the seasons between the sea- or river- 
shores and the interior. 

A home is not only a physical fact; it is also a psychological onel To 
have a home is to know one's physical environment, to foresee the 
habitual climatic changes, cold and heat, drought and storm. It is to 
know the animals and plants available in the neighbourhood, to be 
familiar with their habits, to learn to avoid them as dangerous, to seek 
them as food or as friends. A home, moreover, comprises a human 
group ; it implies a common habitation, common adjustments and knowl 
edge, as well as familiarity with one another. People who live together 
know each other's behaviour. They learn to understand each other's 
gestures and physiognomy, and in some cases, as in Central Australia, 
they can tell each other's footprints. There is a spirit of neighbourhood. 
No matter what other forms of political or social organization may 
exist, there is always co-operation, mutual helpfulness, on the part of the 
members of a local group. And there is a readiness, if not an organiza 
tion, for protection against climatic dangers as well as against the dan 
gers from beasts and hostile men. 

Human nature being what it is, to know about people is to want to 
know more about them. Gossip is one of the universal institutions of 
mankind, and it is specifically associated with the local group, a circum 
stance from which many an ethnologist has greatly profited. In condi- 

illuminating observation: he saw a weasel passing through the territory of a pair 
of reed-buntings, who were pursuing it in rage. Another male of the same species 
of bird approached. But instead of welcoming it as an aid in driving off the in 
truder, the male whose nest was actually in danger, several times left the pursuit 
of the weasel to attack the other reed-bunting!' Huxley makes this statement in 
the course of an exposition of a book by H. Eliot Howard, Territory in Bird Life, 
in his Essays in Popular Science, pp. 182-183. (Reprinted by permission of Alfred 
A. Knopf, Inc.) 


tions where the written word is absent and the spirit of systematic in 
vestigation as yet unborn,* gossip is an important source of dissemination 
of knowledge, especially of personal and intimate knowledge, and 
the professional gossip, the unofficial historian of primitive days, is the 
ethnologist's great friend. 

A phase of primitive life in which both prescriptive and proscriptive 
regulations abound is marriage. As will presently be seen, the control 
of marriage is a function of more than one type of grouping. Where 
local exogamy prevails, the control of marriage is a function of the 
local group no marriage within one's own village. This form of mar 
riage regulation occurs, for instance, among the Blackfoot Indians, a 
number of the coastal tribes of Australia, and among many of the island 
tribes of Torres Straits and Melanesia, where localized clans are the 
rule. From the standpoint of culture, as such, another item deserves 
emphasis here : the local group is the smallest unit of cultural specializa 
tion. In details of custom, daily habits, rituals, and often dialect, a local 
group differs to some extent from every other local group. Cultural 
changes are rooted in local variants. 2 

Relationship Groups. Another basis of social organization is blood- 
relationship. The importance of blood-ties in primitive life has long 
been understood. Relationship here underlies a variety of groupings. 
Of these only the family, though varied in form, is universal. Contrary to 
a widespread notion, for which anthropologists are in part responsible, 
the family, consisting of husband, wife, and children, is found every 
where. There may be more than one wife, and here and there, more than 
one husband; the average duration of matrimonial ties may fall short 
of modern standards; the household may embrace other related in 
dividuals in addition to the immediate family. The fact remains, the 
family is there as a distinct unit. It is there, whatever other social units 
may coexist with it. Moreover, it antedates them where no other social 
forms are found, as in the most primitive tribes, the family can always 
be discerned. It may be noted incidentally that in the crudest cultures, 
for example among the Andamanese or the African pygmies, monogamy 
is more generally the rule than among somewhat more advanced tribes. 

2 It is scarcely necessary to add that the basic character of locality as a social 
classifier has never been transcended. Among the fixed groupings of modern 
society, local determinants loom large. State, city, village, cruartef, street, block, 
are territorial units the significance of which is physical as well as socio- 
psychological. And as ever, there liveth the spirit of the neighbourhood with its 
grotesque twin, the spirit of gossip. It is interesting to note in this connection that 
in the most recent socio-political experiment on a gigantic scale, in the Soviet 
Union, territorial as well as industrial groups function as the primary electoral 
units, the former in rural districts, the latter in urban ones. 


The family controls the individual in a variety of ways. Its influence 
is especially pronounced during the earliest years of education and the 
immediately succeeding period of industrial apprenticeship. 3 Even 
marriage in its many varied forms that ubiquitous and all-important 
social usage is in many instances controlled by a member or mem 
bers of the immediate family, more often than not by the mother. The 
family often functions as a unit upon the ceremonial occasions con 
nected with pregnancy, birth, marriage, death, and burial. 4 

Important though these functions are, the most significant role of the 
primitive family remains to be mentioned. Everywhere and always, the 
family serves as the principal point of cultural transfer from one genera 
tion to another. It must be remembered that culture consists not only of 
material things but also of ideas, attitudes, customs, and the like, the 
latter accounting for by far the larger part of its content. Even material 
things, as a part of culture, are not passed along automatically; their 
uses must be explained, the implied techniques learned. As to spiritual 
culture, including language itself, there is no other way in which it can 
be communicated, among primitives, except by verbal explanation and 
teaching, and the direct absorption by the learner of what is being said 
and done. It is evident that most of what boys or girls learn in this way, 
especially during the important formative years of childhood, is brought 
to them through the medium of the family. There are other agencies 
through which they learn, but in the earliest years the role of the family 

8 It must not be understood by this that the family everywhere enjoys a monopoly 
of these functions. Among the maternally organized tribes of north-western Mela 
nesia, the mother's brother, who belongs to a different household than that of 
his sister, usurps many of the functions more commonly exercised by the father; 
he, rather than his sister's husband, is the chief guardian of her children and the 
person largely responsible for their education. 

4 An interesting, though rare, form of family organization has been described by 
F. G. Speck among some eastern Algonquin tribes. The tribe here is subdivided 
into a number of families, each including certain relatives in addition to the 
primal nucleus of parents and children. The pre-eminence of the father is marked. 
Associated with each family is a hunting territory of varying size in which its 
members claim exclusive hunting privileges, the latter being extended to strangers 
only by special arrangement. The boundaries of such hunting territories are marked 
at varying intervals by natural or artificial sign-posts. The Indians have a very 
clear idea of the expanse and limits of their respective territories. Professor 
Speck was able to secure from his informants a series of maps, drawn under his 
direction, on which the boundaries of family territories are indicated. (Cf. his 
'Family Hunting Territories and Social Life of Various Algonkian Bands of the 
Ottawa Valley,' Memoirs, Geological Survey, vol. LXX, Ottawa, Canada.) Such ter 
ritorial organizations, delimiting hunting and other prerogatives, are not unknown 
elsewhere in North America, and have also been reported from Australia, but the as 
sociation of the institution with a family system seems peculiar to Dr. Speck's 


is overwhelmingly preponderant. The significance of the family as a 
transfer point of culture cannot be overestimated. It serves as a bridge 
between the generations, between 'fathers and sons.' 

The family, in this basic sense, is, of course, universal among more 
advanced historic peoples, but it will be seen from the above that it is 
also ubiquitous and important among primitives. 5 History, we know, 
is rich in special and local forms of the family. For example: the patri 
archal family, centring about its male master, as among the Hebrews ; or 
the highly institutionalized and sanctified family, which becomes the 
base of a lusty and picturesque ancestor worship, as in China and Japan. 
These types of the family, however, belong to conditions very different 
from the primitive. 

Another form of blood-relationship bond is discovered in the 
amorphous group of blood relatives, consisting of individuals, male 
and female, who are designated by different terms expressing kinship: 
mother, father, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, cousin, etc. Such groups of 
blood-kindred, with their adhering 'in-laws,' exist among all peoples, 
primitive and modern. Any discussion of blood-relatives must include 
the in-law group, as the two kinds of kinship constantly intertwine, both 
sociologically and terminologically. Of this the primary unit itself is 
an illustration, as the children are related by blood both to mother and 
father, whereas the parents may be and often are related merely by 
marriage, thus introducing two in-law groups into the blood group. 
From this angle, a family is a social knot through which two potential 
in-law groups become such in fact. 

Primitive relationship terms are often designated by the somewhat 
misleading term 'classificatory.' By this is meant that a kinship term is 
used to designate not merely an individual related to one in a certain 
definite way but also other individuals related to one in a different way. 
Thus the term 'mother' will not only be used to designate one's own 
mother, but also the mother's sisters and her first cousins and perhaps 
still other women even more remotely related to the speaker. The term 
for 'father' may be used in a similar fashion to designate one's own 
father, the father's brothers, his first cousins, and so on. Or again, the 
mother's brother and the father's sister's husband will be covered by 
one term, or the father's sister and the mother's brother's wife. Or one 
term may be used for the father's sister, her daughter, her daughter's 

5 Apart from the Utopian society of Plato's Republic, and setting aside the some 
what aberrant experiment of Sparta after which the Republic was partially pat 
terned, we must look to modern conditions to find a society in which the family 
seems to have 'outlived its usefulness,' not, as some think, hopelessly and 
permanently, but sufficiently so to require a radical revamping. 

daughter. 6 A great many such extensions in the uses of relationship 
terms are found throughout primitive terminologies of relationship. In 
contrasting these kinship systems with our own, for example the English, 
the term 'classificatory' is justified for the former only in so far as the 
terms for the immediate family father, mother, brother, sister, son, 
daughter are always used by us to designate a relative standing to the 
speaker in one particular degree of relationship, whereas just these 
terms are in primitive systems most frequently extended to cover entire 
classes of relatives. On the other hand, such terms as 'uncle' and 'aunt' 
are used by us in a classificatory way to designate father's or mother's 
brother, father's or mother's sister, whereas in primitive terminologies 
'aunt' is often used for father's, not mother's, sister, 'uncle' for mother's, 
not father's, brother, the terms 'uncle' and 'aunt' being in such instances 
used in a descriptive, not a classificatory way. At the same time it is im 
portant to remember, as bearing upon the status of the family, that in 
many primitive tribes the terms used for the immediate members of the 
family are either distinguished from the same terms in their extended 
uses by the addition of some particle, or terms corresponding to 'own* 
are used, or a distinction is implied in the context of the conversation. 
Family is family, whatever the system of relationship or uses of terms. 7 
It must not be imagined that these extensions in the use of terms 
represent but terminological issues. Far from it. First of all, relation- 
ship terms are often employed in place of our personal names, the lat 
ter being reserved for special, generally ceremonial, occasions. 8 Then 
again, special rules of behaviour, proscriptive and prescriptive, often 
apply to certain relatives. Apart from the multifarious and, of course, 
ubiquitous functions of parents towards children and the only less 
numerous ones of children towards parentsi the mother's brother is a 
relative who, particularly in maternally organized societies, occupies a 
place of special prominence, often above that of the father. In such 
tribes, as already noted, it is the mother's brother, not the father, who 
stands in the very centre of the social complex in all matters pertaining 
to rituals, education, inheritance, and control of property. Again there 

6 While this subject cannot be discussed here in greater detail, compare the sec 
tion on Australian classes and sub-classes (pp. 343 seq.). 

7 An interesting illustration of this occurs among the Iroquois, where, as we 
shall see, a nephew (sister's son) and a younger brother are the most common suc 
cessors to a chief's office. Both these terms are used by the Iroquois in a classifi 
catory sense. Still, in the vast majority of cases, it is the own sister's son or own 
younger brother who succeeds a chief. 

8 It was shown in the section on religion how important it is for an under 
standing of primitive attitudes to appreciate this reluctance to use personal names 
too freely. 


is the so-called mother-in-law taboo, a widespread custom in many cul 
tural districts according to which all familiarity and even conversation 
are forbidden between son-in-law and mother-in-law. Less stringent reg 
ulations control not infrequently the relations of daughter-in-law and 
father-in-law. In Melanesia, as both Rivers and Malinowski have shown, 
the connexion between social behaviour and particular relatives is 
especially frequent and important. In Australia, again, the right to 
marry, in fact almost the duty to do so, belongs to certain groups of 
related individuals within phratry, class, or sub-class limits, who are 
from birth on designated as 'husbands' and 'wives. 5 Here definite duties 
are assigned to groups of relatives at ceremonies; also, when the hunters 
return from the chase, food is apportioned to individuals in accordance 
with their relationship status. 

An interesting and amusing form of behaviour between relatives is 
the so-called 'joking-relationship' of the Plains Indians. Dr. Lowie in a 
recent book, The Crow Indians, gives some illustrations of the custom 
among this people., A joking-relationship obtains between the sons and 
daughters of fellow-clansmen (descent here is maternal) . The particular 
behaviour might take a humorous turn. Thus, *if a man recognizes a 
wagon outside a house as his joking-relative's, the fancy might seize him 
to reverse front and rear wheels. Under ordinary circumstances the owner 
would show resentment, but not as soon as he discovers the identity of 
the joker: then he must not get angry, he merely bides his chance for 
getting even.' 9 When a man or woman has committed an objectionable 
act, the joking-relatives have the privilege of publicly jeering at the 
person. There are also other regulations of behaviour between relatives. 
With his own brother's or clansman's wife a man is on terms of greatest 
familiarity; he -may treat his wife's sister with utmost freedom and she 
will reciprocate in kind. 10 Brothers-in-law may speak to one another 
lightly on impersonal matters, but any kind of obscenity, in act or 
word, is forbidden. A brother and a sister may discuss important mat 
ters together, but are enjoined from chatting or being together by them 
selves. I might add to this that in certain parts of Melanesia where the 
brother-sister taboo is pronounced, sentiment runs so high on these 
matters that one of twin siblings is often put to death as soon as born on 
account of their objectionable intimacy in prenatal life. 

While in Australia the matrimonial correlates of relationship are ex 
ceptionally conspicuous, in view mainly of their prescriptive character, 
relatives of varying degrees were prohibited from intermarriage or sex 

9 R. H. Lowie, The Crow Indians, p. 22. 


contact among all peoples and at all times. Among these prohibitions 
some are particularly general and drastic: mother and son, father and 
daughter, brother and sister, in the order named, stand at the head of 
the list. Not one of these sex taboos, categorical though they are, has re 
mained wholly free from infraction outside the law, and even, in cer 
tain exceptional instances, inside the law, as among the Pharaohs of 
Egypt or the kings of Bantu Negroes but barring these exceptions, it 
must be said that these particular taboos are everywhere reinforced by 
the so-called 'horror of incest,' an emotional reaction of somewhat mys 
terious origin, which is by no means restricted in its range to these pri 
mary sex taboos, but readily extends at least to the major sex prohibi 
tions prevalent in a given community. 11 

The two kinds of relationship groups so far discussed the family 
and the comprehensive group of blood-relatives and c in-laws' different 
though they are, have certain elements in common: both are biological 
and bilateral. The individuals of a relationship group are united by 
actual ties of blood, and these ties branch out in both lateral directions, 
through the mother as well as the father. This represents in an extended 
form the basic fact that the family itself is bilateral, in so far as the 
parents are related to their children by actual bonds of blood, and the 
children are related to each other through both parents. Husband and 
wife, on the other hand, need not be related to each other except in 
tribes where cross-cousin marriage is general or obligatory (as in 
Australia). 12 In general, however, it may be remarked that in small 
communities provided exogamy does not prevail all individuals of 
the local group soon become interrelated. Then, of course, all marriages 
constitute a sort of inbreeding, married couples being, if only in a re 
mote way, related by blood. 13 

11 It seems hardly fair to doubt that psychoanalysis will ultimately furnish a 
satisfactory psychological interpretation of this 'horror of incest.* Freud has shown 
all but conclusively that incestuous tendencies represent one of the most deeply 
rooted impulses of the individual. If then culture hrings with it a negative at 
titude towards incestuous unions and here further psychological and perhaps 
sociological sounding is retired as to the why and how it is to be expected that 
these attitudes would become reinforced by most formidable barriers which become 
buttressed by powerful emotions, a 'horror' of incest. 

12 Cross-cousin marriage is marriage between the children of a woman and those 
of her brother, and conversely. 

13 This is what Boas has to say in this connexion, with special reference to 
the Eskimo of Smith Sound in North Greenland. 'From all we know, it seems 
extremely unlikely that this community ever consisted of more than a few hun 
dred inclividuals. . . . [It] has been cut off from the outer world for very long 
periods; and while there may have been accessions of new individuals from out 
side once each century, on the whole it has remained completely isolated. It is 


The blood-groups now to be considered are of a different order. They 
are neither purely biological (with one exception) nor bilateral. These 
groups are the clan, gens, 14 dual division (or moiety), the maternal or 
paternal family (biological) , and the Australian class. From a biologi 
cal standpoint it is justifiable to class all of these groups in the 
category of blood-relationship, in so far as all of them contain nuclei 
of blood-relatives, while the maternal or paternal family comprises only 
actual blood-relatives. There is, moreover, additional reason for class 
ing these social units with the relationship category psychologically, 
in the minds of the people themselves, the individuals in these social 
units are related. This status does not depend on the presence or ab 
sence of actual blood-ties, but is psychological a 'legal fiction.' These 
groups, with the exception of the maternal family, may thus be desig 
nated as pseudo-biological, in so far as their biological character is at 
least in part fictitious. 

Of the groups just enumerated the clan and gens are by far the most 
important. A clan can be defined as follows: it comprises individuals 
partly related by blood and partly conceived as so related; it is heredi 
tary (a person is born into a clan) ; it is unilateral (the children belong 
to the clan of the mother). Without including them in the definition, 
two additional features must be added, for completeness: a clan almost 
always has a name, and more often than not it is exogamous, that is, 
there is no marriage within the clan. The definition of a gens is the 
same, except that the children follow the father. 

Sibs have a far-flung distribution in the primitive world. As one 
surveys these units in different geographical areas, scores of differences 
appear, in size, number, and functions. In North America, for example, 
the Iroquoian Mohawk and Oneida have only three clans each, while 
the other tribes of the League have at least eight each. The adjoining 
Algonquin Delaware have three clans, among the southern Siouan tribes 
the Omaha have ten gentes, while the other similarly organized tribes 
the Iowa, Kansas, Osage, etc. have more than ten each but less than 
twenty-five. The Winnebago have twelve clans. As contrasted with this, 
the Tlingit and Haida have fifty or more clans each, while the southern 
Kwakiutl seem to have had considerably more than that. In the South 
west, the Hopi, Zuni, and other tribes have at least as many clans as the 
Tlingit and Haida, and some have more, and the same applies to some 

therefore obvious , . . that all the individuals [of this group] must be inter 
related through their remote ancestry.' (The Mind of Primitive Man, p. 82.) 

14 Dr. Lowie has introduced the term sib to cover both clan and gens. Whenever 
the difference between the two is not important, it is a convenient term to use. 

tribes in the Southeast, In those Californian tribes which have gentes the 
number of these units seems somewhat limited, perhaps falling below 
the North Pacific Coast figures. In Africa, with the thirty-odd Baganda 
gentes, some tribes of the Centre and East have more than one hundred 
clans or gentes. Granted similar populational conditions, the multi 
plicity of these social units is, of course, correlated with a relative 
paucity of individuals in each. In Africa, where population is much 
denser than in America or Australia, single gentes may comprise many 
thousands of members, scattered over a wide territory. 

The variability in functions is equally conspicuous. There are great 
differences in the way a sib system is interwoven with the rest of culture. 
The variations are striking. Among the Tlingit and Haida the clan sys 
tem enters actively into nearly all aspects of life art, mythology, eco 
nomic pursuits, politics, ceremonialism. Among the Iroquois the clans 
are the carriers of the all-important socio-political functions of the 
League. The Zuni clans, as Kroeber has emphasized, merely stand for 
a method of counting descent. In Africa, barring occasional industrial 
specialization of gentes, these units often represent little more than very 
wide and loose groups with a common name and a common taboo. The 
sibs of Central Australia, finally, have become almost purely ceremonial 
in character; they are magic-working associations, having shed all other 
functions, if they ever possessed them. 

When one compares the clans of two areas in greater detail, contrasts 
stand out even more strikingly. Thus, among the Iroquois, the clans, in 
addition to having a bird or animal name, control exogamy, own ceme 
teries and perhaps fields for cultivation, elect ceremonial officials, and 
play a definite part in the election of federal chiefs ; whereas the clans 
of the Tlingit and the Haida have local names and elect clan chiefs, 
own hunting and fishing territories, and are distinguished from each 
other by a series of ceremonial and mythological prerogatives a clan 
myth, a clan carving or set of carvings, clan ceremonial dances with 
accessories, a clan song or set of songs. The clans here are also ex- 
ogamous but merely as parts of the major units, the moieties, which are 
the real carriers of the matrimonial functions. Perhaps the greatest con 
trast between the Northwest Coast and Iroquois clans lies in the fact 
that in the former area the clans have different rank in accordance with 
the privileges and supernatural powers claimed by the component in 
dividuals; whereas among the Iroquois a clan is a clan, no less and no 
more, notwithstanding the fact that some of the clans comprise maternal 
families with hereditary League chieftainships, while other clans, though 
comprising maternal families, have no such chieftainships. Different as 


the clans of the Haida and Tlingit may be from those of the Iroquois, 

the clans of both groups appear relatively similar when contrasted with, 

say, the gentes of the Baganda with their double or triple totems and 

their caste-like specialization in industrial functions and in services to a 


Correlated with some of the differences in the functions of clans is the 
relation of a clan system to the family system in the same tribe. Thus, 
among the Tlingit and Haida, once more, the family is divided against 
itself by the intrusion of the clan principle. The inheritance of property 
and privileges glides along the edges of the family, as it were, the main 
line of transfer being from maternal uncle to nephew or from father-in- 
law to son-in-law. In the old days of clan feuds, moreover, clan al 
legiance here counted for more than family allegiance: fathers and sons 
met in deadly combat prompted by bonds stronger than those of the 
family hearth. Among the Zuni, on the other hand, the family is but 
little impressed by the clan division within its midst for here also clan 
members do not intermarry and attends to its many economic, educa 
tional, and domestic functions almost wholly undisturbed by the pres 
ence of another social grouping. 

A comparison of sibs in different geographical areas, it will be seen, 
discloses striking dissimilarities and even contrasts in the number of 
sib units in a tribe, in the number of individuals in each unit, in -sib 
functions, in their relative importance as carriers of the group culture, 
in their relations, finally, to the family. 

The impression might thus be conveyed that the sib represents a 
wholly fictitious category corresponding to no one reality, that it is but a 
term, more useful in the scientist's study, with its abstractionist inclina 
tions, than realistic in connotation or univocal in meaning. 
. Fortunately, it is not necessary to accept so extreme a conclusion. 
Whatever the differences, clans and gentes, wherever found, have cer 
tain traits in common. Among these we can recognize the traits indicated 
in the definitions of clan and gens: the fiction of blood-relationship, the 
hereditary character, the unilateral aspect, as well as a sib name, 

The characteristic of having a name might be thought artificial and 
trivial; who or what in this world does not carry a name? And yet, there 
is significance in this trait. It will be noted that of the social groupings 
here enumerated only two almost always have a name: the local group 
and the sib. 35 Families, in primitive society, usually remain nameless; 
the maternal families of the Iroquois or the paternal ones of Ontong- 

"To these must be added those strictly Australian units, the class and sub- 
class, which also have names. 

Java have no names; relationship groups are always nameless; so are, 
as a rule, age, generation, and sex groups. Even dual divisions and 
phratries, while named at times, are often nameless. But the local group 
and the sib have names, with but rare exceptions. In the case of the 
latter units, moreover, the name carries with it certain sociological 
implications which are absent in the case of the local name. An in 
dividual from a local group with a name wanders off and marries else 
where. His children and grandchildren may still refer to or at least 
know of his local provenience; but barring exceptions, his great 
grandchildren and their children will have forgotten it. The imported 
local name disappears from the new locality. It is different with a clan 
or a gens. These survive as long as any persons are left male in gentile, 
female in clan society to pass on the sib name. In cases where patri- 
local residence is combined with paternal descent, or matrilocal resi 
dence with maternal descent, 16 the survival of a sib in a locality is as 
sured as long as procreating individuals are left, male in the former case, 
female in the latter. Where descent and residence are not of one type, 
a sib can more readily disappear from a locality, but it will continue 
somewhere, through its name, under the conditions already stated. 

Four cultural features deserve attention here, all linked with sibs in 
their geographical distribution: blood-revenge, adoption, exogamy, and 
totemism. Not that any of these features are invariable companions of 
sibs or never occur without them. The opposite is true. In other words 
the statement just made should be understood to mean that the associa 
tion or linkage of these features with sibs is so frequent as to constitute 
an 'adhesion' (Tylor) . 

Before launching upon the subject of exogamy, a few words about 
blood-revenge and adoption. In its broadest aspect blood-vengeance has, 
of course, nothing to do with sibs or any other kind of social unit. This 
custom represents one of the most widespread and probably one of the 
earliest reactions of mankind, of the nature of eye for eye.|SpecificaIly, 
it means here death for death. The punishment for murder is death, 
and the punishment is not exercised by society through any representa 
tive or legal agency, but by those most closely affected by the death of 
the victim, his kin. |fa this form then, blood-vengeance acquires a social 
character. One step further, and we find the principle of communal 
responsibility entering the situation. |The death of the victim is avenged 
by the killing not necessarily of the culprit himself but of anyone of his 
kin.1 In this form the custom is widespread in connexion with sibs: a 

16 When residence is patrilocal, the -wife joins her husband at his village; when 
residence is matrilocal, the husband joins his wife at her village. 


sib-mate for a sib-mate. But it also occurs in families, especially in so 
cieties beyond the primitive. We find it functioning today among the 
mountaineers of the Caucasus, as well as those of Kentucky. 

Adoption also is in its base independent of and, perhaps, antecedent 
to the emergence of sibs. Its psycho-sociological roots must probably be 
seen in the desire, socially sanctified, to take care of unattached children 
and of adults without a social passport. Particularly in cases of the latter 
type the benefit is mutual the adult thus adopted finds in the new rela 
tionship a social security which he badly needs, whereas the adopting 
group enhances its man-power, an important consideration in primitive 
conditions. This latter aspect is well illustrated by the custom, common 
among American Indians and elsewhere, of adopting prisoners of war 
to compensate the group for its own losses in killed and captured. This 
kind of adoption is in its typical form administered by a sib. After sub 
mitting to the ritual of a blood-covenant, the adopted member becomes 
part and parcel of the sib community. In the course of this rite the blood 
of the outsider is in many instances actually permitted to mix with that of 
a member of the adopting sib, a blood-vessel being slit open in an arm of 
both for the purpose. The sense of blood kinship in a sib is well exempli 
fied by this custom. It must also be remembered that families, clans, and 
even larger groups of people, such as tribes, could be and were thus 
adopted, on occasion, as when the Delaware Indians were adopted by 
the Iroquois, in this case in the capacity of 'assistant cooks,' symbolized 
by a corn-pestle, a hoe, and petticoats. This incident, be it noted, had 
about it nothing humiliating to the Delaware, contrary to the statements 
of writers who misunderstood the custom. 

The association of sibs with exogamy and totemism is much more 
striking. Exogamy is an all but universal associate, while totemism is 
an extraordinarily common one. Leaving totemism for later considera 
tion, let us first turn to exogamy. 

Clan and gentile exogamy the rule to marry outside one's own sib 
unit is so general a feature that it may here be assumed to be prac 
tically universal. But there is a difficulty. In cases like those of the Crow 
and the Delaware clans, or the clans of the League Iroquois, or the gotras 
of India and the African gentes, the exogamous issue is clear: a sib 
member is prohibited from marrying in his or her own sib unit, and 
must look for a mate outside, in one of the other sibs. 

The situation becomes more complex when other tribes are con 
sidered. Among the Tlingit and Haida, for example, there is no mar 
riage within the clan, but on further inspection it appears that the 
exogamous rule really applies to the moiety: marry outside your own 


moiety and into the other one. As the clans are comprised in the moieties 
and no clan is found in both moieties, it follows that there is also no 
marriage within one's clan. A similar situation obtains in Australian 
tribes organized like the Dieri. 

In all such instances the moiety is the real exogamous unit, while 
the exogamy of the clans may be designated as derivative. This becomes 
clear when one considers that the rule which prohibits marriage in 
one's own clan also applies to marriage with any clans of the same 
moiety, thus: 

Moiety -41 f Moiety B 

(comprising . (comprising 

i I marries^ \ \ , & 

clans OL, a 2 , clans 6 15 6 2 , 

,. . .) J [ *,. . ) 

An a : man may not marry an a t woman, nor may he marry an a 2 
or a z woman; he marries any woman of moiety B; etc. 

It is as if one were to say that in a football game a Harvard freshman 
is pitted against a Yale junior. Even though objectively correct, the 
statement would be misleading, in so far as the groups pitted against 
each other are the college teams., whereas the classes do not figure as 
units in the game, but merely indirectly as subdivisions within the col 
lege body. 

Further complications arise upon an analysis of tribes organized like 
the Australian Kamilaroi or Warramunga. Here both the negative and 
the positive marriage regulations are drastically determined, whereas the 
clans or gentes, while exogamous de facto, do not appear as units in 
either connexion. Take the case of the Kamilaroi the tribe is divided 
into two phratries or moieties, each moiety is subdivided into two 
'classes' and also into a number of clans, thus: 

Moieties: I II 


Classes: A B CD 

(a = ) o + a 2 di + d 2 (=d) 

Clans : (6 = ) 6 X -f b 2 e + e 2 ( = e) 

Marriage follows class: A marries D, B marries C. Now class A con 
tains a 17 &! and c 1? which are parts of clans a, b, and c. Similarly, 
class B contains a 2 , b. 2 and c 2 , which are the other parts of clans a, b 


and c. And so also with classes C and D. As to marriage, then, the clan 
sections # 15 fe a and c of clans a, b and c have common obligations and 
restrictions: they marry D y but may not marry B or C. The same holds 
throughout. So that the matrimonial regulations referring to section a x 
(clan a) are quite different from those for a 2 (clan a] ; the first marries 
D, the second, C. From the standpoint of marriage regulation, on its 
positive side, the clan is divided against itself. As to the negative side, 
the situation is the same, as can be easily figured out. This is what is 
meant by saying that the clan here is not an 'exogamous unit, 9 either 
positively or negatively. 17 

From an examination of all such tribes and their number is large 
one might derive the impression that the alleged universality of sib 
exogamy represents but another superannuated dogma, that clans and 
gentes, while exogamous in many instances, have in others no connexion 
whatsoever with matrimony. 

This conclusion would be erroneous. Of the functional characteristics 
of sibs, exogamy must still be regarded as the most persistent. But how, 
it will be asked, can this proposition be reconciled with the complica 
tions outlined in the foregoing? A glance at the world picture of sib 
exogamy furnishes the answer. First, there are tribes where sibs appear 
as exogamous units. Then come other tribes where the presence of ex 
ogamous moieties or phratries prompt one to describe the exogamy of 
the minor units as derivative. Finally, there are still other tribes 
primarily those of Australia where each sib comprises sections with 
their own positive and negative matrimonial regulations. But one fact 
holds true: with only such exceptions as all social 'laws' are subject to, 
intermarriage within a sib is nowhere permitted. One is forced to con 
clude that in the absence of moieties, phratries, and classes, sib exogamy 
would still obtain, just as it does when these social units stand alone. 
In other words, it is in the nature of sibs, as groups of blood-relatives, 
actual or assumed, to function exogamously in the negative sense of a 
taboo on intermarriage within the unit and in all but very few instances 
they do so. 18 

It must be noted here that while the family and local group are basic 
in modern as in primitive society, relationship, age, and sex groups, 
though more important among primitives, persist in an attenuated form 

17 For further details on Australian social divisions see pp. 343 seq. 

18 For particulars the student is referred to the ample literature on exogamy. 
Here only this should be added: Though specifically congenial with sibs, exogamy 
also occurs in connexion with other social units, such as phratries and moieties 
(frequently) or local groups (less frequently). 


in modern civilization, whereas clans, gentes, maternal families, moie 
ties, phratries, and 'classes' are peculiar to primitive society. In other 
words, the unilateral hereditary principle, in the drastic form in -which 
it operates in these groupings, is foreign to the spirit of our social life. 
The principle itself is, of course, present in connexion with the inherit 
ance of property and the family name, but it does not figure as a basis 
for the formation of a definite hereditary group into which an individual 
is born and to which he belongs until death or beyond, in defiance of 
marriage ties and local residence. 

Of these unilateral primitive groups the sib is the one having the 
widest distribution. It is therefore not surprising that sibs should have 
been regarded as not only characteristic of primitive society but as uni 
versal, at a certain stage. This, of course, is not the case. 

Dual divisions or moieties, such as those of the Tlingit and Haida, 
Iroquois, Winnebago, Omaha, etc., as well as numerous Australian and 
Melanesian tribes, are like sibs in many ways. They are hereditary and 
unilateral, either maternal or paternal. Usually but not always, they 
have names. They also comprise blood relatives, real and assumed, al 
though the sense of relationship here is weaker than in the smaller kin 
unit. The moiety is a much more populous group; the very fact, more 
over, that it is, as a rule, subdivided into minor units with strong rela 
tionship bonds, is apt to weaken this element in the moiety. 19 

Functionally, moieties are no more uniform than are clans. Among 
the Iroquois the phratries, which here are also moieties or dual divi 
sions, attend primarily to ceremonies. Games, such as ball and lacrosse, 
are also played between phratries. The phratries have the obligation of 
burying each other's members. Also, the phratric groups of clan chiefs 
are the two bodies to which the name of the candidate for chieftainship 
is submitted by the matron of a maternal family, before the name is 
passed on to the council of the League for final ratification. 

Among the Tlingit and Haida the moiety plays a distinctly different 
role. There is a moiety chief, an official unknown among the Iroquois. 
In so far as the moieties are named after birds and animals Eagle 
and Raven among the Haida, Raven and Wolf among the Tlingit the 

19 From moieties such as the above two other types of social divisions must be 
distinguished. Dual divisions have been described among the Yuchi Indians, but 
here these groups are purely ceremonial and instead of comprising clans, cross 
cut them, so that each clan contains members of both divisions. Dual divisions of 
this type have no connexion with blood relationship. 

Then there are phratries like the six of the Crow or those of some Southwest 
tribes. These groups also comprise clans as subdivisions but have, once more, no 
connexion with blood-relationship. Many phratries, no doubt, represent second 
ary associations of clans, on a ceremonial, mythical, or some other basis. 


mythologies and traditions of the two halves of the people are very dif 
ferent. Among the Tlingit the moieties have one important ceremonial 
function, as the potlatches are here given between the moieties, never in 
the same moiety. There is also, as among the Iroquois, reciprocal burial. 
But the principal function of the Northwest moieties is the control of 
marriage they are rigorously exogamous. 

In Central Australia the moieties are connected with intermarriage 
in so far as no unions are permitted within a phratry. They also figure 
as a basis of local grouping in camping. In preparation for the intichi- 
uma ceremonies members of the opposite phratry announce the time at 
which a ceremony is to be performed; and, as part of the ritualistic 
routine itself, members of the opposite phratry are charged with the 
very serious task of painting the dancers and of adorning them with bird- 

Not only are reciprocal functions common in moieties, but the dual 
division of the tribe seems to stimulate a tendency to emphasize con 
trasts with reference to the two moieties. One moiety is believed to be 
of local origin, the other to have come from, elsewhere ; or they are sup 
posed to represent different physical types; or the names are contrast 
ing, as for example, in the case of the widespread Australian moiety 
names, Eaglehawk (white) and Crow (black) . The infection occasion 
ally spreads to the investigating ethnologist, who tends to take the local 
theories seriously or invents some similar ones of his own. In some in 
stances, of course, the ethnologist, and even the natives, may be right. 20 
Two further blood-relationship groups are the maternal or paternal 
family and the Australian class. The latter will be discussed in a special 
section (see pp. 343 seq.) , but a few words are due to the former. 

The maternal or paternal family occupies an intermediate position 
between a family, in the ordinary sense, and a clan. It is like the bilateral 
family in that it comprises only actual blood-relatives. Also, it fre 
quently remains nameless. Therefore there attaches to it that vagueness 
of outline as a social unit which is characteristic of all groups of blood 
based on remembered relationships. What is merely remembered may 
also be forgotten. A name settles such difficulties with one stroke: Now 
a person's status is fixed at birth, in fact in advance of birth, by the 
hereditary transmission of the group name, and with it as a tag, mem- 

20 It is curious haw -well a dual division lends itself to all occasions where 
games, conflicts, or political issues are involved. It has often been remarked that 
in democracies either there are two parties or the rest tend to group themselves 
about the two leading ones, in connexion with elections, parliamentary debates, 
voting in important issues. To an Eaglehawk a Crow seems blacker than ever, 
whereas to an outsider both may well appear as sparrows and grey. 


bership in the group is both guaranteed and enforced. But the uni 
lateral family, like the bilateral family, has no name. 

The unilateral family, then, is like a clan or gens. It is, however, a 
much smaller group, as a rule at least, and where it is combined with a 
sib organization, as among the Iroquois, there are several unilateral 
families in each sib. 

Being in principle so nearly like a sib, the unilateral family has 
often been identified and confused with that unit by investigators. ^After 
what was said, it will be clear that the two units are distinct the uni 
lateral family is an actual blood group, maternal or paternal, whereas 
a sib, we know, involves a fiction of relationship! 

Chapter XX 



Groups of Function 

As we survey once more the array of social forms now passed in 
review, one fact stands out with great clearness : society has seized upon 
a large number, if not all possible relations, spatial, temporal, and 
biological^, of man to nature and of man to man, and on the basis of 
these relations social divisions have grown up. First, there is the spatial 
relation, implied in the habitat of a human group. This is the founda 
tion of local groups, villages, towns, tribal territories, and states. Then 
there is the '^biological relation, which appears in two forms, actual 
blood-relationship and assumed or fictitious blood-relationship (pseudo- 
biological)! Actual blood-relationship is represented by the parent-to- 
child and child-to-child bond in the individual family, bilateral; also 
by the maternal or paternal family, both unilateral; and by the group 
of blood-relatives with its adhering system of relationship terms, bi 
lateral. Fictitious or assumed blood-relationship is represented in such 
groups as the clan, gens, dual division (in some instances), and the Aus 
tralian classes and sub-classes, all unilateral. Then there is the grouping 
based on sex. And finally come the two forms of temporal relation of 
man to man, as expressed in the principles of age and generation. 

Age, Generation, and Sex Groups. Three kinds of grouping still re 
main to be considered. They are of a different order from the preceding 
in so far as the limits of these groups cannot be fixed with the precision 
attainable in the case of the family, sib, local group, or even a set of 
relatives united by demonstrable bonds of kinship. These groupings are 
based on age, generation, and sex. 

In all primitive societies age is an important factor; in some it stands 
out very prominently. Generally speaking, the following rough classifi 
cation of individuals obtains practically everywhere. First come the 
infants or babies, who are important enough in their immediate families, 
particularly in relation to their mothers, but hot in the society beyond. 
Before a name is ceremonially bestowed upon an infant, it is, in many 
primitive groups, practically outside the society; its life counts for as 



little as does its death. 1 The next class is that of children. These count 
in many ways. They are subject to instruction in the affairs of the house 
hold, in the arts and crafts, the accomplishments of the hunt and the 
gathering of the products of wild nature. During this period, the chil 
dren usually begin to participate in some at least of the ceremonial ac 
tivities of the group, and in tribes such as the Trobrianders they become 
acquainted, in the rough, with the elements of sex and the lures of sex 
attraction. It is in general characteristic of primitive conditions that 
relatively young children, say of the age of eight or nine, have already 
absorbed most of the fundamental industrial techniques, a great deal of 
the ethics and etiquette, and much of the traditional lore of the group. 
The next class is that of young men and women, just before and through 
the period of puberty. At this time the girls become full-fledged and 
active members of the household, while the boys learn to excel in the 
arts of the chase, and to pay heed increasingly to the political and 
religious teachings of the old men, chiefs, and medicine-men. About 
this time also the first important initiatory ceremonies are performed, 
wherever these are present, ushering the young people male more 
frequently, female less so into the early stages of the ceremonial cycle 
and the esoteric knowledge of religious or secret societies. By this 
time the girls and boys have grown into young men and women. This is 
the time 'i or marriage. The youth is now a warrior, the maiden not 
merely a helper but an independent housewife. In the arts and crafts, 
the social rules and amenities of the tribe, they are now thoroughly at 
home, but in matters of religious, ceremonial, and political import 
they may still have to cede first place to the older men and women. 

The class above this is that of mature men and women. They are full 
members of the tribe, participating in all industrial, religious, social, 
military, and educational activities and forming the backbone of family 
life/ The last and in some respects most important and influential class 
is that of old men and, in some tribes, old women, ^hile these take a 

less active part 1 in the day-by-day activities, their leadership in cere 
monial and political matters is pronounced, and they do everywhere 
constitute the great depositories of tradition, figuring as the mouthpiece, 
as it were, of the conservative status quo. They know the past, in fact, 
all there is to be known, and see to it that this knowledge is passed on 
without much loss or addition. 2 

1 This is one of the reasons why newly born infants can so readily be done away 
with, as they often are for magical or other motives. 

2 The role of the 'fathers* in the conflict of generations has been well brought 
out in the works of Mrs. Elsie Clews Parsons, who has dealt with this topic in 


The rigidity with which these age classes are ~ separated and this 
separation is, of course, always flexible to a degree varies among dif 
ferent tribes. Thus the old men are not by any means everywhere as 
influential, in fact all-powerful, as they are in the Australian gerontoc 
racy, 3 nor are the infants always as unimportant and negligible as they 
seem to be among some Melanesian tribes. 4 

The principle of generation never appears with any great distinct 
ness, but it might be described somewhat as follows: From the stand 
point of the mature men and women, they themselves represent the 
present generation, below this is the generation of their children, and 
below this the incipient generation of the grandchildren. Above the 
present generation is that of the mothers and fathers, and above this the 
waning generation of the grandparents. This rough classification of 
the generations is especially noticeable in the study of relationships, 
where terms are often used to cover individuals of one or both sexes 
belonging to one generation, although, in other instances, relationship 
terms also transcend the generation level. 5 In the course of ethnological 
field work it has also been observed that the memory of informants 
runs most naturally along horizontal generation lines. In obtaining 
information of the basis of genealogies, therefore, it is usually prefer^ 
able first to group the questions around individuals who belong to the 
same generation, rather than to begin by following up each line of 

a great many articles as well as in most of her popular books. C/., for example, 
The Old Fashioned Woman and Fear and Conventionality. 

The exaggerated prestige of old age is one of the earmarks of primitive culture 
While the life-wisdom, sophistication, and balanced outlook of ripening years con 
tinue to command respect in modern society, the prestige of old age, as such 
has been shaken by the growing artificiality and vicariousness of knowledge and 
tta ever-increasing demands which social life makes upon the energy and vigour 
ot its earners. In a young, boisterous, and hurried community, like that of the 
United States, age at times seems definitely outclassed. In the United States in- 
dustnal executive positions and educational and academic as well, go in increasing 
proportion to young people. In family life, also, the prestige of the highest age 
group is visibly on the decline. In the eyes of the young, the omniscient Solons 
ot lormer days are turning into old fogies. 

It is curious to note that in villages and on farms, where life approaches that 
of more primitive communities, the prerogatives of old age continue to hold their 



Economic conditions, here as always, play their part. Among the Eskimo for 
example where subsistence comes hard, the sick and the old are an intolerable 
burden And so we find that the former are not infrequently abandoned to their 
late, should they collapse on a journey, whereas the old people, when they reach 
an age and physical condition precluding self-support or co-operation with others 
are abandoned in a snow house, often self-built to die from starvation. 

* For example among the Crow, where one's father's sister's son is called 
father and ones mother's brother and even one's mother's mother's brother are 
eider brothers. 

descent, perpendicularly upwards and downwards, to the limit of the 
informant's memory. 6 This principle obtains to a degree also in modern 
society. Men and women of the same generation share certain elements 
of knowledge, habit, and attitude which create a bond separating them 
vaguely from preceding and succeeding generations. A young man be 
gins his career in the generation of his fathers and ends it in the genera 
tion of his children. 

The one remaining grouping is the one based on sex. While this prin 
ciple of classification has often been exaggerated by Schurtz, for ex 
ample, who built upon it his entire theory of social organization it 
is undeniable that the sex division gives rise to a set of formal and 
functional distinctions in society, and that this is on the whole more 
emphatically true of primitive than of modern communities. It is equally 
notable that certain forms of behaviour and attitude resting on sex- 
distinction, for example the entire social complex growing out of the 
discrimination against women, 7 are more pronounced in later cultures 
than in most primitive ones. 

The social units based on these different principles all perform 
functions in society. The cultural status of a social division represents, 
in fact, no more and no less than the sum total of its functional relations 
in society a social unit is what it does. For this reason it has often been 
felt that it would be both scientifically justifiable and convenient if so 
cial units could be defined by their functions. This, unfortunately, 
cannot be done for the simple reason that specific functions are not 
monopolized by one rather than another kind of social unit. Some func 
tions, in fact, such as the ritualistic ones, occur in connexion with all 
the social units here enumerated. Economic functions are exercised by 
families, sibs, phratries, tribes or groups of tribes. And so it goes 
through the entire list of possible social functions. Thus the idea of 
differentiating social units terminologically, on the basis of function, 
must be given up except in special instances. 8 It becomes clear, further 
more, that in their cultural status, which depends on function, different 
kinds of social units may be equivalent. A clan in one tribe may stand 
for what a family represents in another, a local group here may mean 

6 On the genealogical method in field work, see above, p. 49. 

7 On the disabilities of women, cf. tbe section 'Division of Labour and Pro 
fession' (pp. 142 seq.). 

8 It was shown that economic functions are more particularly the business of 
local groups; matrimonial and ceremonial ones, of moieties; matrimonial and 
totemic ones, of sibs ; and so on. But all this is relative : in no instance do we find 
an exclusive association of a specific function with a particular kind of social 


the same that a phratry or dual division means there, a tribe or group 
of tribes may function in one place as a clan or a village or an age 
group functions in another. 

One must be careful, therefore, not to accept too literally this analyti 
cal presentation of social units. The lines of demarcation between the 
different units are not by any means distinct, either when identical units 
are compared in different tribes or even when different units in one 
and the same tribe are juxtaposed. The analytical distinctions are never 
theless significant, in so far as they aid us to discern the principal forms 
of social units, in so far also as they disclose the basic natural roots of 
social structure. 

This does not complete the survey of social units. Primitive society 
knows still other social groups which, unlike those enumerated above, 
are purely functional. 

Industrial Groups., Some groupings are based on industrial associa 
tion. I have previously referred to the fact that under primitive condi 
tions industrial specialization is relatively inconspicuous. Each family 
here resembles every other family in its industrial functioning, and 
large numbers of individuals in a tribe perform the same round of eco 
nomic functions. By way of emphasizing the contrast between modern 
and primitive society, this picture may stand. It must, however, be re 
membered that industrial or economic specialization always exists. It is 
coextensive with society itself. 

The economic or industrial division of labour discussed in the sec 
tion 'Division of Labour and Profession,' implies specialization. We 
saw that among the Haida and Tlingit, all men are woodworkers, just 
as all women are potters among the Zufii or Hopi, basket- weavers among 
the Maidu. In tribes such as these a distinction arises between average 
workers and those who have become experts, and, to that extent, there 
is an incipient specialization of an industrial group, over and above 
the specialization which follows sex. Even in the much cruder indus 
trial conditions of Australia, it has been noted that men of certain lo 
calities excel in the manufacture of one or another weapon. In certain 
Australian tribes messengers constitute a class by themselves. In more 
advanced communities, such as the Negroes of Africa or the Poly 
nesians, industrial differentiation has proceeded much further. Among 
many of the Bantu-speaking Negro tribes, the agriculturists and the 
herdsmen are separated into veritable social classes. There also one 
finds, as we saw, salt-diggers, iron-smiths, merchants. In Polynesia the 
boat-makers constitute an ancient and honoured class. 

Apart from instances of communal work which implies social and 


even personal intimacy, groups of industrial specialization develop 
bonds based on common knowledge and skill, a variety of common in 
terests, perhaps a common supernatural protector, and last but not 
least, a certain mutual understanding, a feeling of belonging together. 
All this is strikingly true of the Hindu castes, where industrial speciali 
zation is associated with social status, matrimonial rules, and rules of 
etiquette (with special reference to food), in addition to the numerous 
factors involved in the work itself which make men alike and bring them 
together. In the Indian castes these features are developed to an extraor 
dinary degree, but they are present, in one form or another, wherever 
industrial specialization occurs. 9 

Societies or Associations. Another type of functional grouping is 
represented by the various kinds of societies or associations, religious, 
military, medicinal. Such societies are widely distributed in the primi 
tive world. Among other places, they thrive in Northwest Melanesia, 
in West Africa, and in a number of wide tribal areas in North and South 
America. The societies for usually there are several may be purely 
male or purely female or mixed. They may comprise most of the mem 
bers of a tribe or only a small esoteric group, may be based on age, 
guardian-spirit initiation, or payment by an individual or a group. The 
societies may be equivalent in status or more or less rigidly graded into 
lower and higher ones. The functions of the societies may be purely re 
ligious and ceremonial, as is most frequently the case; or medicinal in 
addition, as for example among the Iroquois and Zuni; or military, as 
in certain well-known Plains organizations; or juridical, as in Mela 
nesia and West Africa. What is characteristic of all such organizations 
is that the bond between the members is not one of status but of func 
tion remove the common functions and the organization based upon 
them becomes a mere shell. This applies not merely to the 'societies' 
just mentioned but to groups of industrial specialization as well where 
common function is the only basis of group formation, the elimination 
of the function would carry with it a dissolution of the group* 

Birth Groups. Still other groups are based on birth and inheritance 

9 The best-known and most typical example of industrial specialization combined 
with social solidarity is, of course, that of the guilds. These groupings economic, 
craft, commercial, religious, esoteric or secular, hereditary or otherwise, legal or 
subversive flourished in old China; they were not unknown among the ancients 
of the Mediterranean hasin, and during the Middle Ages their development reached 
extraordinary exuberance. During the Renaissance decay began to set in. Thence 
forth the guilds pursued a downward course, until the Industrial Revolution finished 
them, at least temporarily. In recent years a certain revival of the guild spirit is 
observably both in theory and in practice. (For a brilliant though not always 
reliable sketch of the guilds see Peter Kropotkin, Mutual Aid in Evolution.) 


of privileges, or birth and occupation. An illustration of the birth-and- 
privilege grouping is found on the Northwest Coast, where the heredi 
tary prerogative of chieftainship, with all its accruing distinctions, 
belongs to the class of nobles. The same is true of many groups in 
Polynesia. The reverse situation is found in the case of slaves. This 
institution is more widespread in primitive society than is generally 
supposed, being common in Polynesia, Africa, and America. Barring 
special instances in which a slave or a descendant of a slave may pass 
into another social class, a man born a slave dies a slave, and with this 
status go the inevitable restrictions on social participation. 

The best known example of the working of the birth-and-occupation 
principle is found in the Hindu castes cited above in connexion with 
industrial specialization. Here the different occupational groupings have 
become hereditary, and with this status go privileges and restrictions, 
social, ceremonial, matrimonial (a caste is endogamous, it marriejs 
within itself). Caste-like traits are also observed, for example, in the 
Baganda gentes, with their hereditary specialization in different indus 
trial occupations related to the needs of the royal household. 

In connexion with hereditary or acquired privileges, the principle 
of rank makes its appearance. Rank may be static, as when different 
social classes are firmly fixed by birth and are kept apart with greater 
or less stringency. Rank may also be mobile, as for example, in the 
graded societies of the American Plains or of Mota (Banks Islands, 
Melanesia), where rank is something to be striven for and attained, by 
complying with certain conditions. 

Property Groups. Wealth not always in the modern sense, as we 
saw may become the mark of a group with somewhat fluctuating out 
lines, | as happens among the herd-owners of Africa or the reindeer- 
breeding Chukchee, Koryak, or Tungus of Northeast Siberia. 

When one compares these purely functional groupings with those 
based on spatial, temporal, or biological factors, it becomes apparent 
why these two kinds of groups could be distinguished as groups of 
status, on the one hand, and groups of function, on the other. The 
groups of status are based on principles which flow directly from cer 
tain relations between man and nature and man and man. Culture here 
figures as a mere background, while man's proclivity to fall into groups 
on the basis of such lines of cleavage is taken for granted. Groups of 
function, on the other hand, emphatically presuppose culture. The fun- 
tions are really the dynamic aspects of culture itself, and the groupings 
become social units on the basis of such common functions. Groups 
of status are social units by composition people of one locality, com- 


mon blood, one sex, same age while the range and depth of their 
penetration into a culture depend on the functions they exercise; whereas 
groups of function are functional and cultural in the first place, and 
become social units as groups of common functions. 10 

In the concrete, the distinction between the two kinds of groups often 
becomes obliterated. A clan exercising a ceremonial function like that 
of a religious society, in the same or another tribe, is to that extent 
equivalent to that society. A family or a local group specializing in an 
industrial pursuit, is equivalent to a corresponding industrial group 
without foundation in status. The blurring of the distinction between 
groups of status and those of function is further enhanced by the fact 
that both kinds of groups tend to assume new functions or lose some of 
their old ones. In any case, a comparison of groups of status with groups 
o&'f unction serves to disengage a sociological principle, which is this: 
Social divisions of whatever provenience tend to exercise cultural func 
tions and to assume new ones; functions, on the other hand, tend to 
attach themselves to pre-existing social units or to create new ones. 

In concluding this survey of social groups and their functions we 
must further note that a primitive tribesman participates at any given 
time in a number of such units. He is a family man and a clansman, a 
member of a local group and of a religious society or of several such 
societies; he functions as part of an age, sex, generation, and relation 
ship group, and he may also share in the privileges and obligations of 
an industrial or a hereditary-rank group. Thus the intellectual and emo 
tional orientation of an individual becomes highly complex. On the 
social side again he finds himself enmeshed in a network of multiple, 
varied, at times contradictory, rights and duties, prescriptions and pro 
scriptions. We shall see in the sequel how these 'participations' (Levy- 
Bruhl) are reflected in the life and thought of primitive man. 


The socio-religious institution called totemism is of more than ordi 
nary interest. Its distribution is wide and the forms it assumes are many 
and varied. Few primitive topics have aroused such general interest or 
provoked such heated controversy. Spencer, Frazer, and Andrew Lang, 
Rivers, Laurence Gomme, and N. W. Thomas, Thurnwald, Graebner, 
and Father Schmidt, Van Gennep and Durkheim, Wundt and Freud, all 

10 Obviously, all birth groups of privilege, occupation, rank were originally 
purely functional. When these functions became hereditary, groups of status arose 
blue blood. 


of these and many others have contributed their share to the discussion 

of this well-nigh inexhaustible subject 

What, then, is totemism? What is its nature and its distribution in 
the primitive world? 

One speaks of totemism when a tribe comprises a social organization, 
usually of the sib pattern, combined with a peculiar form of supernat- 
uralism which, in the more typical cases, consists of certain attitudes 
towards species of animals or plants or classes of natural objects. 

The geographical distribution of totemic tribes is extraordinarily 
wide. In North America totemism occurs in the Northwest, among such 
tribes as the Tlingit and Haida; among the Zurli, Hopi, and related 
tribes of the Southwest, in the Southeast (Natchez, Creek, etc.), among 
certain California tribes, as well as among such Woodland tribes as 
the Algonquin Delaware, and, in attenuated form, among the Iroquois- 
speaking tribes of the League. In the Plains, the so-called Southern 
Siouan tribes (Omaha and others) have totemism. Our South American 
material is still full of gaps, but totemism has been described by Im 
Thurn, in British Guiana, some of the Indians of Brazil certainly are 
totemic, and it does not seem unlikely that, on further investigation, 
totemism will be found as prevalent in South America as it is in the 
northern continent. In Africa, the tribes of the Mediterranean littoral 
must be eliminated as belonging to a distinct cultural layer, nor is 
totemism found at the extreme southern end of the continent, among 
such tribes as the Bushmen and Hottentot. But in the enormous inter 
vening area, among the Bantu and the Sudanese Negroes, totemism is 
very general if not universal. Ankermann's presentation, moreover, sug 
gests that further totemic tribes are likely to be discovered in this region 
(see p. 465) . In aboriginal India the more developed forms of totemism 
do not seem to Jccur, but many of the gotras or clan-like social groupings 
of that area have some form of totemism, while others seem to have had 
it in the past. Australia is the totemic continent par excellence. Here all 
the tribes are totemic with the possible exception of the southeastern and 
northwestern tribes, and even among some of these the evidence for 
former totemism is not unsatisfactory. Among the islanders of the Torres 
Straits and in Melanesia totemism occurs sporadically, and when it 
does, it is often highly developed. For Polynesia the evidence is doubt 
ful, but it is not improbable that some of the western island clusters had 
totemism in die past. 

This enormous geographical distribution of totemism, wide but dis 
continuous, can only be interpreted in one way. A single hlstprical acci- 


dent, followed by diffusion, could not account for it. 11 Totemism must 
have originated independently, at least once in each of the major areas of 
its distribution. Among the tribes, moreover, to whom totemism was 
brought by their neighbours, there must have been a marked receptivity 
for this institution. In other words, the complex of ideas, attitudes, and 
practices which make up totemism is congenial to primitive mentality 
and therefore characteristic of it, 12 especially so, as we shall see, in all 
those instances where a tribe is organized on a sib basis. 

As one analyzes totemic tribes on a broad geographical basis, a 
variety of beliefs and practices with reference to totems come into view. 
The totemites, or members of a totemic group, trace their descent from 
an animal or bird or thing, or they regard themselves as in some other 
way related to the totem; totem and totemites share physical and psychic 
traits; the totem protects the totemites against danger; the totem is rep 
resented in art and figures as a sacred symbol at ceremonies ; the totem 
is taboo it may not be eaten or killed or seen or touched; the totemic 
sib is named after the totem; ceremonies are performed by the totemites 
to multiply the supply of the totem animal. These are only some of the 
positive and negative rules observed by totemites with reference to their 
totems. In addition to this it must be noted that the totem is scarcely 
ever some one animal or plant or thing (although this happens) ; in the 
overwhelming majority of cases the totem is a species of animal or class 
of things. 

It must not, however, be imagined that any or all of these features are 
invariably present wherever totemism occurs. Such is by no means the 
case. Totemism is one of those cultural complexes which, though distinc 
tive enough when understood, are not distinguishable by content alone. 

11 The attentive reader might well ask, 'Why not? 1 All indications are that 
totemism is very old; its distribution, we saw, is world-wide if not universal; 
moreover, it comprises a whole complex of features social, religious, ceremonial, 
etc. A complex such as this cannot be picked up casually. When therefore one 
finds it in hundreds of tribes, this can only be explained by assuming that a cer 
tain congeniality exists between totemism and the many tribal cultures which, 
have it. This being so, the very conditions favouring the borrowing of totemism 
from without would invite its development from within. It follows that many 
totemic tribes must be assumed to have developed it independently, unless indeed 
borrowing can be demonstrated. The burden of proof, at any rate, rests upon 
those who would uphold a singular origin for totemism. 

12 Therein lies the justification for the procedure adopted by L. Gomme (Folk 
lore as a Historical Science), . Durkheim (Elementary Forms of the Religious 
Life), W. Wundt (Elements of Folk Psychology), and R. Thurnwald (Psycho 
logical Foundations of Totemism, in German) who discuss totemism in the per 
spective of a mentality characteristic of primitive groups. 


Discarding the differences between minor totemic districts, broad 
continental areas are clearly differentiate, from the standpoint of 
totemism. In North America the artistic side of totemism is often de 
veloped, and among the tribes of the Northwest Coast this is highly 
marked. The totemic sib name is common but not universal, and the 
same is true of the totemic taboo. Where totemism is richly developed it 
becomes associated with the beliefs in guardian spirits. Then again, there 
are tribes like the League Iroquois and many tribes of the Southwest 
where the only discernible features are sib exogamy and the animal or 
bird name of the sib barely enough to justify the designation 'totemic,' 
perhaps scarcely enough. 

In Africa, the totemic sib name is often absent and so are, in many 
instances, the artistic representations of the totem. Double totems occur, 
as among the Baganda, where most of the gentes have two totems. The 
idea of descent from the totem is very rare; instead, stories of varying 
pattern are told among the different tribes to explain how the totems 
first made their appearance. The typical trait of African totemism is 
the taboo the prohibition to eat or kill the totemic creature. The very 
term for totem among many Bantu-speaking tribes means 'that which is 
forbidden/ The punishment for the transgression of this taboo is severe ; 
the current notion is that nature herself takes revenge upon the offender: 
he or she is afflicted with a skin disease, the natives believe, which is in 
terpreted as a partial transformation of the culprit into the tabooed 


f In Australia the number of totemic sibs in a tribe is frequently very 
large much larger than in Africa or North America and the number 
of individuals in each sib is correspondingly small/ The totemic sib 
name is universal and so is the taboo. The conception is common that 
the totemites are closely related to their totem. General also is the idea 
that the totemites are in one way or another descended from the totem. 
Totemic art, where it occurs, is peculiar in so far as identical designs are 
used by the different sibs of one tribe as well as by sibs belonging to 
different tribes; but each sib interprets these designs in accordance with 
its own totemic ideas. In Central Australia individuals of one totem and 
locality perform magical ceremonies believed to bring about the multi 
plication of the totemic species. 

This characterization of the three continental areas will suffice for 
our purpose. It will be seen that what we may call the 'totemic com 
plexes' of these areas differ considerably in the number of totemic 
features and in the relative prominence of certain features. Thus, 



Central Australia the magical aspect predominates; in Africa it is the 
taboo aspect; in North America the guardian-spirit aspect; on the North 
west Coast, finally, art is the predominant feature. 

If we cared to push our analysis still further, we might note that the 
extent to which a culture is saturated with totemism also varies. Thus, 
among the Northwest tribes almost every aspect of culture is touched 
by totemic flavour: religion and myth, social organization, ritualism and 
property, industry and art. Among the Omaha, material culture seems 
wholly free from totemic connexions, and ritualism almost entirely so; 
here totemism is relegated largely to the domain of religion and myth. 
In Africa, again, totemism is often little more than a system of food 
restrictions. In the Iroquois or Zuni, finally, we see marginal samples of 
totemism, where the zoomorphic clan name alone points to unrealized 
totemic possibilities. 

It is, however, possible to overemphasize these differences at the 
expense of equally fundamental similarities. In the first place, some 
features are much more common than others. Whereas magical cere 
monies to multiply totems are, perhaps, unknown outside of Australia, 13 
while totemic art is nowhere developed so prolificacy as on the North 
west Coast, other traits occur with fair uniformity in most or all of the 
main totemic areas. Among such widely diffused attributes are totemic 
sib names, taboos, and the idea of some form of relationship with the 
totem. Nor is this all. Exogamy of the totemic sib is an almost universal 
trait of totemism. Whether one holds with some that exogamy is of the 
very essence of totemism, or with others that both exogamy and totem 
ism, being sib attributes, become interrelated secondarily, the fact re 
mains that the prohibition to marry one's totem mate is almost co 
extensive with totemisni itself. And now we come to still another totemic 
trait which deserves emphasis because it has often been misunderstood. 
While most of the totemic attitudes and practices belong to what Durk- 
heim would call the 'sacred' rather than the 'profane 7 realm, totems as 
such are not worshipped. Totems are not gods, rather are they intimates, 
more or less sanctified. Animism, magic, the worship of nature, are not 
totemism. The universality of these features in all tribes, totemic or 
otherwise, shows that totemism nowhere exhausts the content of a tribal 

The distinctive thing about totemism is not the vehemence of the reli 
gious attitude toward the totem that, as just noted, is not discernible 

is C/, p. 341, note 15. 



but the way totemic ideas and rites are interwoven with a social system. 14 
It would be wholly satisfactory to regard this peculiar relation of 
mystical ideas and acts to a social system as the most distinctive trait 
of totemism, if not for one circumstance which, at first sight, seems not 
a little disturbing: our diagram would serve as well to illustrate a tribal 
set of religious societies. In the latter case, namely, a tribal pattern of 
traits also appears in a variety of concrete forms, a different one for 
each society. It thus becomes necessary to stress with added emphasis 
the character of the social skeleton underlying a totemic complex. The 
skeleton is always a social system. It may be a tribal set of families or 
local groups, but in a large majority of cases it is a sib system. The 
totemic complex, without doubt, lends the social system whatever cul 
tural significance it has, but were the complex removed, the skeleton 
would remain; there would still be a social system. This, as we saw, is 
characteristic of groups of status as contrasted with groups of function. 
The social system underlying a totemic complex consists of social units 

14 The following diagram may serve to illustrate how a totemic complex fits 
into a social organization: 


Here the segments I, II, III, . . . are social units (in totemism generally clans 
or gentes), while a, b, c and d are totemic features, say taboo (a), name (6), re 
lationship (c), and artistic representation (d). Now a + b + c + d is sufficient 
to characterize the totemic complex, if one notes in* addition that in each segment 
these features appear in somewhat different form (ai, 02, 03, . . . &, 62, 63, etc.), 
for each totemic unit has a different animal or bird or plant or thing for its totem, 
and to that extent its taboo, its relationship, its artistic representation, are different 
in their concrete aspects from the corresponding features in the other totemic 
units of the complex. 

The sibs I to VIE are, totemically speaking, not identical but homologous. 

which are not merely functional they are groups of status, namely sibs. 

Thus it appears that neither the socio-psychological nature of totem- 
ism, nor its geographical distributions, nor its historic role can be 
understood without a proper appraisal of the underlying social skeleton. 
This, in a majority of cases, will be found to be a sib system. Socio- 
psychologically this means that there is some delicate correspondence, 
some fitness, between the supernatural aspect of totemism and clan or 
gentile systems. Geographically this means that wherever clans or 
gentes occur, there also totemism is likely to be (although there are 
exceptions) , 15 And historically this means that totemism had its share 
in at least some of those elements of primitive life expressed by clans 
and gentes, as well as in some of those they brought into it. Finally, 
let me add this, as not subject to any exceptions: an exuberant totemic 
complex is never to be found except in association with a sib system. It 
must be remembered that, whereas families and local groups are shared 
by primitive and modern culture, sibs and with them totemism occur 
only among primitives. And again, the most primitive tribes lack both 
sibs and totemism. Like sibs, then, totemism, as an historic phenomenon, 
belongs to the middle range, between the most primitive and the 'his 
toric' societies, in the narrow sense. 

If a further formulation of the totemic situation were to be attempted, 
it would run about like this. We note three tendencies characteristic 
of clusters of social units, especially so when these are sibs: a tendency 
to becorne associated with cultural features, homologous as between sib 
and sib; a tendency towards exogamy; and a tendency towards certain 

15 Exceptions, in history as in grammar, prove the rule, unless numerous enough 
to offset it. Each case here must be judged on its merits. In the instance of sibs 
and totemism, then, have we 'adhesion' (in Tylor's sense) or mere accidental co 
existence? There can he no douht as to the answer. Totemism always implies a 
social system. The cases in which such a system consists of groups of families or 
local units are very rare: in the vast majority of instances the social system 
underlying a totemic complex is a sib system. On the other hand, families or local 
groups are in all but a few (very rare) cases not connected with totemism, 
whereas sibs are much more frequently totemic than not, as anyone familiar with 
Australian, African, or American data, will have to concede. Have we then 
adhesion or not? If we have, it is an historical fact or process (Tylor's 'adhesion' 
is an historical concept) , and the point of view adopted is an historical point of 
view, as contrasted with a purely analytical one. This much is to be said in answer 
to Dr. Lowie's stricture upon this position (see his Primitive Society, pp. 144- 
145). For the benefit of those interested in the broader aspects of scientific theory, 
I might say that in totemism we can see a fine example of the applicability of 
the standpoint of Gestalt or configuration. As a configuration one of many char 
acteristic of primitives it stands out very much a specific and clearly defined 
thing. As such it can, of course, not be proved but only apperceived, like all 
configurations. When this is achieved, there arises the further problem of placing 
this 'thing' historically this is what I have attempted to do. 


mystical attitudes with reference to creatures and things in nature. All 
three tendencies are present in historic society (including the modern), 
but are much more pronounced in primitive conditions. These three 
tendencies which in their origins and psycho-sociological nature are 
disparate and in and by themselves not in any sense 'totemic' find in 
primitive sib systems, with which they are so frequently associated, a 
fertile soil for mutual interpenetration and further elaboration. Thus 
spring up totemic complexes in their many forms and varieties. 16 

Before we leave the subject of totemism, two further queries must be 
met: Has totemism and all it stands for been left definitely behind? Or 
can certain adumbrations of it be discerned in modern society? It can be 
shown that neither the supernaturalism involved in totemism nor the 
peculiar form of socialization implied in it is wholly foreign to modern 

While plants and inanimate things have long since been relegated 
to the realm of the matter-of-fact, animals still inhabit a region where 
fact and fancy are peacefully wedded together. As between the animal 
and its human master, verbal usage reveals a common range of physical 
and psychic qualities. One thinks of the eagle eye, the leonine heart, the 
bull's neck, dogged perseverance, catty behaviour, piggish manners. 
Some of us are 'stubborn like a donkey,' others 'sly like a fox,' still 
others 'pugnacious like a rooster.' Current metaphor half in earnest, 
half in jest has introduced a fairly representative zoo into the human 
scene: fox and beaver, bear and rabbit, cat and cow, hog and ass, ape 
and shark. Some mothers treat their children with an affection we think 
ape-like, while others make children of apes, and of cats, dogs, and 
parrots as well. And it is typical that psychic qualities intellect, af 
fection, understanding, sensitiveness are wont to be ascribed to these 
creatures just by those masters who may at times refuse to grant such 
traits to some humans. 

From the days of Lavater's physiognomies to those of Lombrosian 
criminology, note was taken of animalistic suggestions in human counte 
nances, balanced perhaps less commonly by the reading of human fea 
tures and expressions into the faces of animals. Marguerite Audou's 
delightful book, Marie Claire, abounds in such observations, while Geor 
gette Leblanc's 'dog book' will supply still others. 

16 Cf. my Torm and Content in Totemism' (American Anthropologist, 1918), 
also Totemism, an Analytical Study' (Journal of American Folk-Lore, 1910) 
reprinted with revisions in my History, Psychology, and Culture which falls short 
of a complete formulation, in so far as I was then unaware of the historical perspec 
tive emphasized in the present discussion. As a general guide to totemic literature 
consult Van Gennep's The Present State of the Totemic Problem (in French) . 

We moderns also bestow animal or bird names upon esoteric societies, 
game terms, political parties. Similarly, certain groups among us are 
wont to project their sense of solidarity into a symbol, a college pin, 
party emblem, national flag, regimental banner or mascot. We do, how 
ever, lack sibs. In the absence of this congenial gathering point, our 
totemic proclivities, rather than blossoming into totemic complexes, re 
main disjointed cultural fragments. 17 

17 It is generally known that the United States as a nation has a bird emblem, 
the bald ^ eagle less generally, that the separate states also have their birds. The 
perhaps incomplete list of birds thus far chosen by the states would run as follows: 

Alabama Flicker Nebraska Western Meadowlark 

Arizona Cactus Wren Nevada Mountain Bluebird 

Arkansas Mockingbird New Hampshire Purple Finch 

California YaUey Quail New Mexico RoadRunner 

Colorado Lark Bunting New York Eastern Bluebird 

Delaware Cardinal North Carolina Carolina Chicadee 

District of Columbia . . . Wood Thrush North Dakota . . Western Meadowlark 

Florida Mockingbird Ohio House Wren 

Georgia Brown Thrasher Oklahoma Bob White 

Idalw Mountain Bluebird Oregon Western Meadowlark 

Illinois Cardinal Pennsylvania Ruffed Grouse 

Indiana Eastern Cardinal Rhode Island . . Bob White 

Kansas Western Meadowlark South Carolina Carolina Wren 

Kentucky Cardinal South Dakota . , . Western Meadowlark 

Louisiana Brown Pelican Texas Western Mockingbird 

Maine Chickadee Utah California Gull 

Maryland Baltimore Oriole Vermont Hermit Thrush 

Massachusetts Veery Virginia Robin 

Michigan Robin Washington Willow Goldfinch 

Minnesota Goldfinch West Virginia Tufted Titmouse 

Mississippi Mockingbird Wisconsin Robin 

Missouri Eastern Bluebird Wyoming Western Meadowlark 

Montana Western Meadowlark 

Some of the state birds were selected for their beauty, others for the quality of their 
songs, for their economic value, or for their role in local tradition. Thus Utah chose 
the gull, which is credited with having saved her crop from insects in 1848- The 
nicker or 'yellow hammer' was adopted by Alabama because her cavalry in the 
Confederate army were nicknamed 'yellow hammers* from the colour of their uni 
forms. And so on. 

If confronted with this list, a primitive totemite would experience a warm feel 
ing of congeniality towards his White brethren. Upon reflection, he might group 
Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, and Wyoming 
together as belonging to the Western Meadowlark clan. Similarly, Delaware, 
Illinois, and Kentucky would constitute the Cardinal clan, with possibly Indiana, 
with its Eastern Cardinal, as a sub-clan. He might inquire whether New Yorkers 
sang like Eastern Bluebirds and the people of Maryland like Baltimore Orioles. 
He might also comment on the exclusive selection of birds as totems, although, if 
he happened to be a Melanesian, this feature would not surprise him. He might 
even express surprise at the fact that a North Dakota man is permitted to marry 
an Oregon woman, or even a North Dakota woman. At any rate his mind would be 
stimulated along congenial lines. He would feel passably at home in this scene. 

Chapter XXI 

The Tlingit 

The two northern tribes of the Northwest Coast of America, the Haida 
and Tlingit, have social systems identical in most respects. For the 
sake of brevity I shall, in the main, restrict this sketch to the Tlingit. 
There are two main social divisions or phratries among the Tlingit 
known as Raven and Wolf. The principal function of these phratric 
groups is to control intermarriage, no marriage being permitted within 
a phratry. 1 Descent is maternal, the children belonging to the phratry of 
the mother. In addition to controlling intermarriage, the phratries exer 
cise certain functions with reference to each other which may be called 
reciprocal. Thus the members of the two phratries assist each other at 
burials of their members and the building of houses. Also, the principal 
feast or potlatch of the year is given by one phratry to the opposite 
phratry* 2 

The phratries are subdivided into clans: twenty-eight in the Raven 
phratry and twenty-six in the Wolf phratry. These clans are known by 
local names and all evidence points to the fact that they originally con 
stituted local divisions or villages. The local character of these social 
units is pronounced even today. Thus, of the Wolf clans, one is promi 
nently represented in four localities, one in two, while two clans occur 
in three localities. The remaining twenty-one clans are almost wholly 
restricted to one village. Of the Raven clans, one predominates in four 

1 Earlier writers spoke of a third social division, very small numerically and 
represented in only one locality, with which members of both phratries were per 
mitted to intermarry. More recent investigations have thrown some doubt on the 
importance and r perhaps, the very presence of this third division. 

2 The difference in this item between the Tlingit and Haida provides an interest 
ing illustration of local differentiation between these two culturally so closely 
related tribes. Among the Haida also a potlatch may on occasion be given to a 
member or group of the opposite phratry, but the main potlatch of the year is 
always given to members of one's own phratry. Their neighbours, the Tlingit, feel 
very keenly on this subject. To have a potlatch given to one is to be placed under 
very serious obligation, they argue; it is therefore distinctly in bad taste to inflict 
such a feast on the members of one's own phratry, most of whom are close relatives 
of the feast-giver. 



villages, one in three, and one in two. The remaining twenty-five clans 
are in the main restricted to one village. 

Being subdivisions of the phratries, which are exogamous, the clans 
are also subject to this rule. As already pointed out a while ago, the ab 
stention from marriage within the same clan is here felt to be a phratry, 
not a clan, matter. Seeing that a member of a clan is prohibited from 
marrying not only the woman of his clan but also those of any clan 
of his own phratry, it is obvious that the clan here cannot be called 
an exogamous unit its exogamy is secondary and results from the 
fact that the clan is a subdivision of an exogamous phratry. A Tlingit 
clan, as well as a Haida one, is in the main a ceremonial unit, distin 
guished by a variety of prerogatives hereditary in the clan; Every clan 
owns its special ceremonial features, such as dances, cries, and decora 
tive paraphernalia. The clan's most cherished prerogative, however, is 
the right to carve or paint as its crest a particular animal, bird, or 
supernatural creature. Among the Tlingit each clan owns one crest, 
whereas among the Haida many of the clans have several crests each. 
These crests consist of carvings on totem-poles and memorial columns 
which are executed and owned by the families or individuals comprised 
in the clan. Crests, in whole or in part, are also carved on boxes or 
ladles, or painted on the sides of canoes and the front walls of houses, 
as well as on the faces of individual clan members. From the artistic 
angle I have already discussed these crests in the chapter on Indian art. 

Every clan has a tradition in which a human ancestor of the clan 
comes into intimate association with the animal, bird, or supernatural 
creature which thenceforth becomes the crest of the clan. Some people 
belonging to the Desitan family, we read in Swanton's Tlingit Myths, 
captured a small beaver, and, as it was cunning and very clean, they 
kept it as a pet. By and by, however, although it was well cared for, it 
took offence at something and began to compose songs. Afterwards 
one of the beaver's masters went through the woods to a certain salmon 
creek and found two salmon-spear handles, beautifully carved, standing 
at the foot of a big tree. He carried these home; and, as soon as they 
were brought into the house, the beaver said: 'That is my make. 5 Then 
something was said that offended it again. Upon this the beaver began 
to sing just like a human being and surprised the people very much. 
While it was doing this it seized a spear and threw it straight through 
its master's chest, killing him instantly. Then it threw its tail down upon 
the ground, and the earth on which that house stood dropped in. They 
found afterward that the beaver had been digging out the earth under 
the camp so as to make a great hollow. It is from this story that the 


Desitan claim the beaver and have the beaver hat; they also sing songs 
composed by the beaver. 3 

Another story quite similar in form, it will be noted, though different 
in content, is told by the Kiksadi of Wrangel, who use the frog crest. 'A 
man belonging to the Stikine Kiksadi kicked a frog over on its back; 
but as soon as he had done so, he lay motionless, unable to talk, and 
they carried his body into the house. Meanwhile his soul was taken by 
the frogs to their own town (arranged, by the way, exactly after the 
mode of human towns) where it was brought into the presence of Chief 
Frightful-Face. The chief said to the man, "We belong to your clan, 
and it is a shame that you should treat one of your own people as you 
have done. We are Kiksadi, and it is a Kiksadi youth who has done 
this. You had better go to your own village. You have disgraced your 
self as well as us, for this woman belongs to your own clan." After 
this the man left Frog-Town, and at the same time his body at home 
came to. He told the people of his adventure. All the people were lis 
tening to what this man said, and it is because the frog himself said 
he was a Kiksadi that they claim the Frog. 5 4 

Another crest tradition, apparently of different pattern but at bottom 
very much the same, comes from the Chilkat. George T. Emmons, to 
whom we also owe an admirable study of the Chilkat blanket, has de 
voted a little monograph to the whale house of this Tlingit tribe. 5 In 
the course of his description of the house a big one, incidentally, 
measuring some 50 odd feet front by 53 feet deep he mentions a 
carved post inside of the house standing to the left of a remarkable 
ornamental screen. This post is named Tlukeassagars, 'Wood- Worm 
Post.' The large upper figure on the post represents Kakutchan, 'the girl 
who fondled the wood-worm,' which she holds in front of her body with 
both hands. Over her head are carved two wood-worms whose heads 
form her ears. Beneath appears a frog and the bill of a crane. The whole 
post symbolizes a tree in which the wood-worm lives. The crane lights 
on the outer surface, while the frog lives underneath among the roots. 

'It is said that in early days, in a village that would seem to have been 
near Klawak, on the west coast of Prince of Wales Island, there was a 
chief of the Tlowonwegadi family whose wife was of the KonnuhtadL 
They had a daughter just reaching womanhood. One day after the 
members of the household had returned from gathering firewood, the 

3 Swanton, Tlingit Myths, p. 227. 

4 Ibid., p. 231. 

* 'A male House of the CMlkat,' Anthropological Papers, American Museum of 
Natural History, vol. XIX, Part I, pp. 1-33. 


daughter, picking up a piece of bark, found a wood-worm which she 
wrapped up in her blanket and carried in the house. After the evening 
meal she took it into the back compartment and offered it some food, 
but it would not eat, and then she gave it her breast, and it grew very 
rapidly, and she became very fond of it, as if it were her child, and as 
time went on her whole life seemed to be absorbed by her pet, which 
she kept secreted. Her constant abstraction and absences grew so notice 
able that the mother's suspicions were aroused and one day she detected 
her fondling the worm that had now grown as large as a person. She 
called the chief and they wondered greatly, for no one had ever seen 
anything like it. As she played with the worm, she sang to it all the 
time. . . . 

The father told the uncle, and he sent for his niece and set food be 
fore her, and while she ate he stole away to see the worm which she 
had hidden behind the food chests in the back apartment. That evening 
the uncle called the people together and told them that his niece had a 
great "living creature," Kutzeceteut, that might in time kill them all, 
and they decided to kill the worm. Another reason given for the destruc 
tion of the creature was that it was held accountable for the loss of 
much food that had been mysteriously disappearing from the grease 
boxes for some time past. 

'The following day the aunt invited her to come and sew her marten- 
skin robe, and in her absence the men sharpened their long wooden 
spears and going to the house killed the worm. Upon her return she 
cried bitterly and said they had killed her child and she sang her song 
night and day until she died. Then her family left this place and mi 
grated north. In commemoration of this event the Tlowonwegadi family 
display the tail of the worm on their dance dress, pipes, etc., as they 
attacked that part, while the Konnuhtadi display the whole worm 
figure, as they killed the head, which was the most important part.' 6 

Although the clans and phratries are maternal among the Tlingit and 
their southern neighbours, the Haida and Tsimshian, the position of 
women in these communities is not high, by which is meant that they are 
deprived of most of the ceremonial prerogatives and do not figure 
except inconspicuously in the customs clustering about the beliefs in 
guardian spirits. 7 

6 Ibid., pp. 30-31. 

7 See pp. 242 seq. It is interesting in this connexion that the relatively inferior po 
sition of woman is here associated with the maternal organization of group descent 
and property inheritance. Among the Iroquois tribes of the East, on the other 
hand, who also have maternal descent and inheritance of property, women stand 
very high, hoth socially and politically. In modern days when the ancient custom 


The Iroquois 

By contrast with the tribes of the Coast, the phratries of the Iroquois 
of the Great Lakes and vicinity were in the main ceremonial units, 
whereas the clans were exogamous with important ceremonial functions. 
The social organization of the Iroquois was as follows : The five Iroquois 
tribes Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca were organ 
ized into a League or Confederacy. This event took place some time 
around the middle of the sixteenth century. Later another Iroquois 
tribe, the Tuscarora, who had been living farther south in North Caro 
lina, came north and joined the League. The formation of the Confed 
eracy, which cost the component tribes some of their rights as sovereign 
groups, resulted in an enormous enhancement of the military power of 
the Iroquois, who proceeded to make use of this in their far-flung 
plans of military conquest. The ideology of this 'historic mission' has 
a strangely familiar ring to modern ears. The chiefs of the Iroquois 
claimed that their purpose was peace/ and that they intended to incor 
porate in the League all the tribes of American Indians, thus establishing 
a reign of peace among the Indian tribes. In fact they designated the 
League metaphorically as the Great Peace. In other contexts it was 
also referred to as the Long-House, meaning the spacious long-house in 
which the League ceremonies were held and where the chiefs met for 
council. In pursuance of these peaceful intentions the confederated 
Iroquois adopted a method familiar to later historic periods, namely that 
of 'fire and sworek' They would offer membership in the League to a 
tribe and, if there was no opposition, incorporate it in a position some 
what inferior to that of the Iroquois. This, however, did not happen 
very often. As a rule a tribe thus approached would refuse in no 
equivocal terms. Then the Iroquois proceeded to attack it and, having 
proved victorious, dealt with it as they pleased. The military successes 
of the Iroquois were < remarkable and continued until they chanced 
upon their own relatives, the Cherokee of the South, who finally put 
an end to this pacific land-slide. 

There were fifty chiefs in the League whose functions and authority 
extended not merely to a chief's own tribe but to the entire popula 
tion of the League. In other words, they were federal officials! These fifty 

of blood-revenge, once practised by the Indians, -was discontinued and a fine sub 
stituted, the different valuation of women on the part of the two groups of tribes 
found expression in tbe relative size of fines. In the Northwest the penalty for kill 
ing a woman was only half of that imposed for killing a man, whereas among the 
Iroquois the reverse was the case the penalty for killing a woman was double 
that exacted for killing a man. 


chiefs came from the five original tribes. The Tuscarora chieftains also 
sat at the deliberations of the League chiefs, but their role was purely 
consultative; they were not permitted to vote on the measures passed 
by the council. The Iroquois explained this partial disfranchisement of 
the Tuscarora by saying that they were thus penalized for entering the 
Long-House through the side wall (obviously an irregular form of 
entry), thereby forfeiting their claim upon full membership in the 
League. The apportionment of chiefs to the five tribes was as follows: 
the Mohawk sent 9; the Oneicfa, 9; the Onondaga, 14; the Cayuga, 10; 
and the Seneca, 8. Each chief had a dynastic name, which he assumed 
on being 'raised' to chieftainship and on laying aside his individual 
name which he had received earlier in life. These dynastic names were 
the prerogatives of certain clans, so that each federal chief was, on 
the one hand, a federal official, on the other, a chief elected by a certain 
tribe and clan. 8 As a rule the chiefs declared war and made agreements 
of peace. They also sat as a court of judges in certain instances of major 
crimes, such as murder, and, in more recent days, of litigation about 
land and property. As individuals the chiefs exercised a wide influence, 
both in their places of habitual residence and in their occasional travels, 
even though their functions in this connexion were not formal but per 
sonal. They functioned as teachers of the young, familiarizing them 
with the nature of the Confederacy, reciting at length the elaborate 
traditions of the founding of the League, and instructing the young 
braves in the behaviour proper in peace, war, and on ceremonial occa 
sions. ]The Iroquois, like other peoples, had their own ideas of what a 
chief should be. First and foremost, a chief must not lie; second (a 
more recent specification made necessary by the inroads of White civili 
zation), he must not drink; and third, he must be imperturbable a 
chief's temper must never be ruffled. A chiefs skin,* said the Iroquois, 
'is seven thumbs thick,' meaning that it could not be pierced. That many 
of these chieftains lived up to these requirements is evidenced by their 
reputation among the Whites, both English and American. 9 

Each Iroquois tribe was divided into two phratries, which among 

8 The ultimate units in which these chiefs were both hereditary and elective were 
the maternal families, about which see pp. 361 seq. 

9 In addition to the traits here mentioned a chief was, of course, expected to be 
thoroughly versed in the traditions, stories, social regulations, and ceremonial tech 
niques of the Iroquois. Old Chief Gibson, a Seneca of the Turtle clan, with whom 
I spent many fascinating hours some 20 years ago, possessed all these qualifications. 
He was both informant and interpreter, a good Indian and as good a White man, 
well-versed in the cultures of both. Although totally blind from his thirtieth year 
on, he continued to serve as a chief on the Grand River Reservation in Ontario until 
his death at the age of 64. 1 regard this Indian parliamentarian as one of the truest 


these people had no names; however, the clans which were comprised 
in one phratry referred to each other as Brother clans and to those of 
the opposite phratry as Cousin clans. Descent in the phratries was ma 
ternal. The principal phratric functions were ceremonial. On ceremonial 
occasions, such as those of the great seasonal festivals, the members of 

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J^S^SSS^^ W///////////////////////////////M 


the two phratries sat facing each other at the opposite ends of the Long- 
House (Fig. 69). The ceremony, usually conducted by two chiefs, one 
on each side, was performed as between the two phratries. At all public 
games the contending sides divided according to phratries, for example, 
at the lacrosse game, at target-shooting, ball games, or the snow-snake 
game. 10 

The phratries were further subdivided into clans; the number of 
these, never very large, differed in the different tribes. Thus the Mohawk 
and Oneida had only three each, 11 the other tribes eight or more. Among 
the Seneca the clans were named and grouped as follows: 

Phratries : I II 

Clans: Bear Wolf Turtle Beaver Deer Snipe Heron Hawk 

friends I ever had, and I shall never forget the dignity and wisdom of the man 
and his tragic faith in Iroquois culture. Tragic because futile and he knew that too. 

10 This game was played with long sticks, an inch or so wide and perhaps a 
quarter of an inch thick, pointed at one end and with a slight groove at the hutt 
end into which the index finger was placed when the stick was thrown. It was 
played on snow which, for this purpose, was smoothed over a long narrow strip, 
usually at a slight incline. The stick was either permitted to remain rough or was 
polished, in accordance with the condition of the snow. When skilfully thrown, 
such a stick, travelling along an incline, would cover a half mile or more before 
it came to a stop. When striking an uneven spot on the way, it would jerk, jump, 
slightly change its direction and speed, thus calling to mind the movements of a 
snake whence the name. 

11 The clans in these two tribes were Bear, Wolf, and Turtle, all of which be 
longed to one phratry, the second phratry thus being absent. Whether this ar 
rangement represented the original condition among the Mohawk and Oneida it is 
impossible to say. 


The clans were not local units, although it is not improbable that in 
early conditions this may have been the case. Members of one clan lived 
in more than one village. Each clan was more or less closely associated 
with one or more long-houses, the long, narrow bark structures in which 
the Iroquois lived, and the majority of individuals in such a long-house 
probably belonged to one clan. 

Unlike many other peoples of their type of social organization, the 
Iroquois showed no regard whatsoever for the animals and birds from 
which the clans took their names. The Iroquois hunted and ate them 
freely; they were not looked upon as the ancestors of the clan-mates, nor 
was worship of any sort extended to them. So far as we can see, in fact, 
no special relationship whatsoever obtained between the individuals of 
the clan and their eponymous animal, the animal, that is, from which 
the name of the clan was derived. Each clan owned its own cemetery 
where the members of the clan were buried, and it is probable that a 
clan in earlier days owned its own agricultural field or fields, although 
this is not quite certain. The clans were exogamous, no man or woman 
of a clan being permitted to marry his or her clan-mate. Each clan pos 
sessed the right to use for its members certain individual names which 
were the property of the clan, or more accurately, of the women of the 
clan. No other clan was permitted to use these names, nor would two 
living individuals of one clan bear the same name at one time. These 
names were semi-ceremonial in character and were scarcely ever used 
for purposes of appellation or reference, relationship terms being em 
ployed for this purpose. At any given time the individual names of a 
clan were in charge of a woman called Keeper-of-Names, who knew 
which names were in actual use. When a person died, his or her name 
became available for use. The Keeper would then 'put' such a name 
Way in a box' until it was called for. When a child was born to a 
woman she would visit the Keeper-of-Names and ask her for the list of 
available names, those, that is, that were not at that time used by anyone 
else. From these she could make her selection. The name was not of 
ficially bestowed upon the child until the next Green Corn Festival, held 
in September, on the second day of which women whose children were 
born within the year would bring them along for the naming ceremonial. 
This name, as already stated, remained largely a decorative possession 
of the individual, as it was scarcely ever used in conversation. Most 
individuals, in fact, soon forgot their personal names, although the 
mothers as a rule remembered them, as well as the Keeper-of-Names. 12 

12 The latter was also called Keeper-of-the-Faith. Among the names were Oteti- 
drd ('Always-Ready'), Owigo ('Floating Canoe'), Gahdno ('Hanging Flower'). 



Before proceeding to the social organization of the Australians let me 
make a little digression. It will be remembered that the French so 
ciologist, fimile Durkheim, while hunting for the origins of religion, 
chose Australia as his particular theme for the alleged reason that these 
tribes, whose social system is rooted in a clan organization, must needs 
be truly primitive 13 a quaint notion in view of the details of this social 
organization, which leave nothing to be desired in the way of definite- 
ness, elaboration, and complexity. It has, in fact, taken much of the time 
of two generations of anthropologists to work them out with sufficient 

In the second place*, we find here an interesting instance of what might 
be called a disharmonious development of the different aspects of a cul 
ture (cf. pp. 522 seq.)* In comparison with the Eskimo, for example, the 
technology of the Australians is exceedingly crude, both in the number 
of objects and devices and in the technical fitness of that which exists; 
by the side of the Eskimo, the Australians appear as poverty-ridden. 
A similar contrast comes to view, when one compares their technical 
arts with those of their 'neighbours' of the vast Pacific area, the Melane- 
sians and Polynesians. The technical skill and the elaborateness of the 
arts among the latter are such as to entitle them to a place among the 
most highly developed primitives in this particular domain, whereas 
the Australians are certainly among the crudest in this respect. In social 
organization, on the other hand, the Australians loom far above the 
Eskimo and are at least the equals of the South Sea Islanders in the 
elaborateness and logical consistency of their system. 

In the following sketch I shall eliminate, for the sake of brevity, many 
interesting details and stress only the salient features of the social group 
ings of the Australians. Underlying the many local differences in the 
other aspects of social structure, we find the small local group or horde 
(Radcliffe-Brown's term, as used here) , which is ubiquitous. Such a 
horde, probably never exceeding 100 individuals in size, occupies a cer 
tain territory, the boundaries of which are known to its members and 

When a boy reached maturity his childhood name was put aside and a new name 
selected for him. When he became a chief, as already mentioned, this second name 
was also discarded to he replaced by the chief's name. Sometimes a clan would 
'lend' one of its names to a person of another clan; when the latter died, the name 
reverted to the original clan. 

13 The reference is to this author's Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, a 
book greatly to he recommended for its penetrating observations and astute reason 


within the limits of which these members exercise proprietary rights 
over whatever products mineral, vegetable, or animal may be avail 
able. Membership in a horde is hereditary in the paternal line, regard 
less of the character of descent in the other social units associated with 
it. Radcliffe-Brown, who is second to no one in his familiarity with 
Australian tribes, states that he knows of no instance or locality in which 
a man could leave his own horde and be adopted by Another, not in the 
sense, of course, that he cannot temporarily absent himself from it, but 
in the sense that he belongs to it. 'As a normal thing,' he says, 'the male 
members enter the horde by birth and remain in it till death.' The horde 
is frequently exogamous and wherever this rule is not enforced, the 
majority of marriages are still outside the horde. A woman at marriage 
leaves her parental horde and joins that of her husband, marriage thus 
being patrilocal.J 

The Australian tribe, as a functional group, is weakly developed; 
territorially it comprises districts occupied by its component hordes. 
The kinship groupings are represented by phratries, sibs, classes, sub- 
classes, and groups of blood-relatives, own and classificatory. 

This enumerative presentation of the social organization of Australia 
seems excessive in its detail and a little bewildering. However, let us 
proceed, beginning with the sib systems. Each tribe is divided into a 
large number of clans or gentes uniformly named after animals, birds, 
or in rare instances after some other natural things. The members of a 
sib are not segregated in one locality but distributed over a number of 
local groups or hordes. In the central tribes and some others, the sib 
members regard themselves as spiritually associated with a number of 
ancestors, half-human, half-animal, who lived in the alcheringa, the 
mythological period. These ancestors, the stories tell us, once travelled 
about the country performing magical ceremonies or, in other versions, 
they were pursued by hunters. At certain places they stopped exhausted 
and disappeared into the ground. Thereupon a sacred tree, rock, or 
water-hole arose upon the spot. These sacred spots or oknanikilla are 
ever since being haunted by the spiritual descendants of these distant 
semi-human semi-animal ancestors. The central Australians believe that 
a woman, when passing by one of these charmed spots, will be entered 
into by a spirit child or ratapa, and that the human child born of the 
woman will be a spiritual descendant of the mythological creature which 
once entered the ground at that particular spot. Our chief authorities 
here, the English investigators, Spencer and Gillen, and the German mis 
sionary, Strehlow, are not quite agreed as to the exact nature of these 
spiritual bonds. It is clear, however, from the evidence of both accounts, 


that some sort of genetic relationship obtains between individuals now 
living and their mythological ancestors. 

The sib members treat their eponymous animal with consideration and 
respect. They are forbidden either to kill or eat it. Their attitude, how 
ever, cannot be strictly designated as one of veneration. Instead there is 
the belief that the animal or bird is a relative or intimate of the sib- 
mates. Each sib has the power of increasing the supply of its sacred ani 
mal or totem by means of a magical ceremony, the intichiuma. Once a 
year, at the end of the dry season, natives from many tribes and locali 
ties congregate for the performance of these ceremonies. The members 
of each sib (or rather its male members for women are strictly ex 
cluded except in the capacity of spectators), properly decorated with 
bird-down and ochre, perform specified dances and songs, in the course 
of which the movements and cries of the totemic creatures are skilfully 
dramatized. There is some blood-letting; the blood drawn from the arms 
of several participants by means of a sharp stone is permitted to flow 
over the ceremonial ground and is then spilled over the surrounding 
rocks. It is in this special rite that the power resides to precipitate the 
multiplication of the totemic animal. On this occasion one member of 
the totemic species is killed, and after having been tasted by the head 
man of the sib, it is then partaken of sparingly by the other members. 
This is the only occasion on which sib-mates may eat of their totem. 
The old men who function throughout as the ceremonial officials produce 
the sacred churinga made of stone among the Arunta but among other 
tribes more frequently of wood and manipulate them in a variety of 
ways. These sacred slabs, which between ceremonial periods are kept 
out of sight at the sacred spots referred to before, are believed to be 
connected by spiritual bonds both with the totemic ancestors of the 
alcheringa and with the human representatives of the clan. Each in 
dividual has such a churinga assigned to him at birth and also stands in 
a certain not clearly defined relation to another churinga, namely that 
of his or her mother. As already stated, these elaborate ceremonies are 
performed by the natives at the end of the long period of drought and 
immediately preceding the season of torrential rains. Soon afterwards 
the plants and animals of the region do indeed begin to thrive and 
proliferate, and the landscape is transformed as if by magic. In this 
case, then, the natives have good reasons grounded in experience for 
preserving their belief in magic. 

^ The totem of each sib stands in a certain relation to other animals or 
birds, the^so-called 'associated totems,' which, though not as important 
as the principal totem, have a sacred character of their own. In the 


mythological tales these animals and birds figure at the side of the main 
totem as participants in the plot. It will be seen that the sibs of this re 
gion central Australia have come to function as magic-working as 
sociations. If they have any other functions, these must have eluded the 
observers. 14 

It is interesting to note that this magical complex of the central Aus 
tralians can be duplicated elsewhere, for example, among the Yuchi In 
dians of Oklahoma. 15 

14 In connexion with the history of anthropological thought, these magical prac 
tices of the central Australians seem also to have had the effect of fertilizing the 
mind of Sir James Frazer. As is well known, this author has described the inti- 
chiuma performances with their associated ideology as a system of 'co-operative 
magic' in which the sib-mates of the different sibs exercised magical powers 
(altruistically!) for the benefit of sibs other than their own; for they themselves, 
as we already know, are not permitted to partake of the animal the supply of 
which they have magically fostered. In this presentation, the magical rites of the 
Australians appear as a sort of fertilization complex, both economic and altruistic 
in character. Now apart from the facts themselves, this particular interpretation 
seems to derive from the fertile mind of Sir James. A study of native attitudes 
brings no evidence of a system of planned economy furthered by co-operative 
altruism. If the natives themselves, then, are not aware of this, the supposed benefi 
cent results of the magical rites can at best be regarded as a purely factual 
incident, if it is one, but not as part of a cultural complex with a definite psycho 
logical connotation. 

15 Professor Speck in his book, Ethnology of the Yuchi Indians of Central 
Oklahoma, describes Yuchi clans in the following words: *The members of each 
clan (descent here being maternal) believe that they are the relatives and, in some 
vague way, the descendants of certain pre-existing animals whose names and iden 
tity they now bear. Their animal ancestors are accordingly totemic. In regard to 
the living animals, they too are earthly types and descendants of the pre-existing 
ones, hence, since they trace their descent from the same sources as the human 
clans, the two are consanguineously related. 

This brings the various clan groups into close relationship with various species 
of animals, and we find accordingly that the members of each clan will not do 
violence to wild animals having the form of any of their totems, for instance, the 
Bear clan people never molest bears; nevertheless they use commodities made 
from parts of the bear. Such things, of course, as bear hides, bear mats, or what 
ever else may be useful, are obtained from other clans who have no taboo against 
killing bears. In the same way the Deer people use parts of the deer when they 
have occasion to but do not directly take part in killing deer. In this way a sort of 
amnesty has been obtained between the different clans and their different kinds of 
animals [shades of Frazer!], while the blame for the injuries of animals is shifted 
from one clan to the others. General use could consequently be made of the animal 
kingdom without obliging members of any clan to be the direct murderers of their 
animal relatives.* (Op. cit. t p. 70.) 

The Indians also perform certain clan dances 'having for their object the placa- 
tion of clan totems. The dancers imitate the motions of their totemie animals witb 
their bodies and arms/ (Ibid., p. 112.) Here also men are the exclusive or at least 
the principal participants in these dances, only a few privileged women being 
admitted to the earlier more sacred part of the ceremony. 'The feeling of the dancers 
seems to be,' continues Speck, *that they are for the time in the actual form of the 


In addition to belonging to a particular sib a central Australian boy, 
before he becomes a full-fledged member of the community, also passes 
through a series of stages which define his tribal status; his entry into 
such a stage is marked by initiation ceremonies. As one after another of 
these ritually marked stages are left behind, there opens up before the 
boy an ever-widening range of tribal functions, ritualistic activities, and 
other forms of participation in the esoteric knowledge and practices of 
the male members of the tribe. In the matter of diet, for example, he 
starts life under a heavy pressure of eating taboos, most of the available 
foods being forbidden to him. When the boy reaches maturity, these 
food restrictions are gradually reduced, finally to be lifted altogether, 
or almost so, at the approach of old age. 

; The most important of the initiation ceremonies which completes the 
ritualistic cycle is the engwura, which comprises an elaborate series of 
rites usually participated in by more than one tribe. The principal rites 
performed on this occasion are initiatory, 16 but in addition the totemic 
ceremonies and other important rituals are gone over, as if in rehearsal, 
by the novices. The purpose of these latter rites is to impart to the young 
men a thorough command of the complicated ritualistic techniques, a 
task accomplished, as usual, by the old men. On this occasion the 
novices are profusely decorated with ochre and bird-down, just as 
were the participants in the magical ceremonies previously described. 
There is, however, this difference : in the engwura no relation whatsoever 
obtains between the totem of the individual and the design used in his 
decoration. In other words, the ceremony is a tribal one and, as such, 
has no reference to the totems or sibs, the customary totemic symbols 
being used here as neutral decorations. 17 

totem, and they carry out in quite a realistic -way the effect of the imitation en 
tirely by their motions and behaviour. . . . Besides those dances which are function 
ally clan dances, there are others which are addressed, in the form of worship and 
placation, to various animals which furnish their flesh or bodies for the use of man. 
Then there are also others which are directed to the spirits of animals which 
have the power of inflicting sickness, trouble, or death upon the people. These are 
imitative, similar in general appearance to those already described.' (Ibid., p. 113.) 

1G In the course of the ritual a strange-sounding voice is heard emanating from 
the bush. This, the women believe, is the voice of Twanyirika, the great spirit, who 
calls to the initiates; but the men know, and the boys are soon to know, that the 
presumed spirit is really an old man who, hidden in the bush, swings about a 
churinga attached to a rope. The weird sound produced by this operation was 
likened by some imaginative Englishman to the roaring of a bull, whence the 
apparatus just mentioned became known as a bull-roarer. As this voice resounds, 
the initiates are one by one spirited away by the old men and taken to the bush 
where the more esoteric part of the ritual takes place. 

17 It may be presumed that a certain halo of sanctity clings even to these decora 
tions, but it is no more than the sanctity of all totems in a totemic community. 


As is usual with sibs, those of Australia are exogamous in the sense 
that no intermarriage takes place within the sib, barring exceptional or 
irregular instances. 18 

The social units more specifically concerned with intermarriage are 
the phratries, classes, and sub-classes. From the standpoint of this aspect 
of the social system the tribes of Australia may be divided into three 
main types. The first, represented by the Dieri and other tribes farther 
south, is characterized by two phratries subdivided into sibs. Here 
exogamy is associated with the phratries and secondarily with the sibs. 
The second type is represented by the Kamilaroi and other eastern tribes, 
where the two phratries with their sibs, in this case clans, are further 
subdivided into two classes each. Here the classes control intermarriage 
in such a way that a member of one class of a phratry must marry a 
member of a particular class of the other phratry. Thejhird.type^ finally, 
is represented by the Warramunga and other tribes of the Centre and 
North, where the two phratries with their four classes are further sub 
divided in such a way that each class is split into two sub-classes. Here 
marriage is controlled by the sub-classes a member of a sub-class of a 
phratry must marry a member of a particular sub-class of the opposite 
phratry. 19 

18 Such an instance, by the way, is exemplified by the very tribes of central 
Australia -with, which we are here concerned. Owing to the fact that the totemic 
membership of a child is determined by the woman's encounter with a spirit at a 
sacred totemic spot, cHildren are frequently born into wrong totem groups, as it 
were. As a result of this again it will occur that members of one totemic sib may 
occasionally be found in both phratries. In consequence of this, they are permitted 
to intermarry an altogether irregular procedure. While this is so among the 
Arunta, other tribes, for example their neighbours the Kaitish, have provided 
against such occurrences. Their belief is that the proper kinds of spirits follow the 
women around wherever they go, and so, when they are impregnated in the way 
described, it is the right spirit that is responsible. Thus the children manage to 
be born into the proper totemic sibs, which among these particular tribes are those 
of their fathers. 

19 The conditions obtaining in the three types of cases may be visualized as 
follows, assuming for simplicity that the phratry throughout consists of three sibs, 
The actual number of clans or gentes in a phratry is always much greater. 

Type I (Dieri, etc.) 
Phratries: I- - >-H 

{a d 

b e 


I marries II and vice versa 

Here the children follow the phratry and clan of the mother 
(or the gens of the father). 


Nor is this all. Marriage regulation is rendered even more precise, as 
we shall presently see, by the relationship system with its terminology, 
the truly orthodox kind of marriage in Australia being between cross- 
cousins, that is between the children of a brother and those of his sister 
(own or classificatory). 

Phratries : 

Classes : 

Type II (Kamilaroi, etc.) 


A B 

(0 = ) 01 + 02 

(6 = ) 61 + 62 

It will be seen that the phratries (I and II) are so subdivided into classes, on 
the one hand, and clans, on the other, that each class A, B, C, or D contains part 
of the members of several clans, while each clan contains members of two classes. 
Class A, for example, contains members 0i, 61, and ci, of clans a, b, and c, while 
clan a contains members of a\ (class A) and a* (class B), and so on. 

The intermarriages and descent of the children as to class can be represented 
as follows (the children always belonging to the phratry and clan of the mother) : 

FIG. 700. 

That is, A marries Z), children are C; C marries B, children are A ; and D marries 
A, children are B; B marries C, children are D. 

Type HI (Warramunga, etc.) 
Phratries: I II 

* X 

Classes : 


Here, then, the condition obtaining in type n is further complicated in such a 
way that each sub-class contains parts of the members of all the sibs of one phratry, 
while each sib comprises members of all the sub-classes of one phratry. Thus, sub 
class 1 contains members 0i (sib a), 61 (sib 6), and Ci (sib c), etc., while sib 
contains members 0i (sub-class 1), 2 (sub-class 2), 3 (sub-class 3) and 04 (sub 
class 4), and so on. The marriages and descent of children as to class, sub-class 
and phratry can be represented as follows (as a rule, the children here belong to 
the gens of the father, but in some central tribes the gentes are not hereditary, so 
that membership becomes irregular) : 

A B 

C D 


(6 = ) 

61 + 62 + 63 + 6 4 

di + dz + di + d* 

ei + e 2 + 63 + 64 


In addition to their matrimonial functions the phratries, classes, and 
sub-classes also figure as units on ceremonial occasions. The camp on 
such instances is usually divided into two territorially distinct halves, 
each associated with a phratry. In preparation for the ceremonies, mem 
bers of one phratry function, as a rule, as the decorators of the other, 
^rigging them out in the usual way with bird-down and ochre. The classes 
and sub-classes function in a similar way, the members of each, as such, 
having certain specific duties assigned to them. At the more or less 
formal distribution of food at the end of a major hunting expedition 
these social divisions are also distinguished by the order in which they 
are served and the quantity or part they receive. 

In relation to the phratries it is interesting to note that their names, 
"when translatable, prove to be those of birds or animals, as for example, 
in the case of the widespread phratric couplet, Eaglehawk and Crow. 
The reason why the names of phratries are often untranslatable, not 
only to ethnologists but also to the natives, lies in the fact that these 
names are archaic, the natives themselves being unable to analyze them. 
This feature, among others, bespeaks the antiquity of the phratric in 
stitution in Australia. 

In passing now to the consideration of the relationship systems, I shall 
first note some of their other features besides the matrimonial ones. All 
of these systems represent the so-called classificatory type in an extreme 

FIG. 705. 

That is, 1 marries 5, children are 2; 2 marries 6, children are 1; 5 marries 1, chil 
dren are 8; 8 marries 4, children are 5; and 3 marries 7, children are 4; 4 marries 
8, children are 3; 7 marries 3, children are 6; 6 marries 2, children are 7. 

It will thus be seen how indirectly the clan or gens in Australia is connected 
with exogamy in its positive aspect, for among the tribes of type III each sib con 
tains four groups of men and women whose matrimonial proscriptions and pre 
scriptions are quite different; among the tribes of type II each sib contains two 
such groups of men and women; while even among the tribes of type I it is 
clearly not the clans or gentes, a, b, d, /, etc., which define the matrimonial rules 
on the negative or the positive side, but the phratries: the law is, no marriage in 
your own phratry, always marry into the opposite phratry* 


form of development, the result of which is that all the individuals of a 
local group are not only interrelated but are so in a definite way, al 
lowing or rather demanding the application of particular relationship 
terms. Now these terms, here as in other places, are far from being mere 
verbal expressions. On the contrary, definitely prescribed forms of be 
haviour, both positive and negative, are associated with the terms. This 
is a matter of such great importance in the life of the natives that an 
Australian does not feel comfortable unless he knows with whom he is 
dealing, as far as relationship is concerned. Radcliffe-Brown tells the 
following curious story from his own experience. Once when he was 
travelling in native territory, with a young Australian as his guide, they 
came to a camp. The anthropologist proceeded in the usual way to 
make preparations for a night's stay in the camp. The boy, however, 
balked in this instance, and decided to sleep outside the camp. Naturally 
interested, Radcliffe-Brown questioned him on the morrow and dis 
covered that the peculiar behaviour of the youngster was due to the fact 
that he had in this case been unable to ascertain in what relationship he 
stood to the different individuals in camp. This meant that he knew 
neither how others would act towards him, nor how he should behave 
towards them. Under such circumstances the boy, apparently a wise one, 
decided to camp on his own. 

Now it will be well to examine what Radcliffe-Rrown calls the 'basic 
principles of classification' in the relationship systems of Australia : 

1. A man is always classed with his brother and a woman with her 
sister (own, not classificatory), these relationships being covered by the 
same term. Our author calls this the 'principle of the equivalence of 
brothers. 5 

2. Relatives by marriage are drawn into a circle of consanguinity. 
Thus the wife of any man one calls 'father' is one's 'mother,' and the 
husband of any woman called 'mother* is called 'father/ 

3. The third principle referred to by Brown is the absence of any 
limitation to the range of classificatory terms, with the result that these 
terms, extended without limit, come to embrace the whole of the society. 

Brown groups the relationship systems of Australia into two types, 
as represented by the Kariera of the West coast and the Aranda or 
Arunta of central Australia. The Kariera type is characterized by the 
prevalence of cross-cousin marriage in three forms: bilateral, where a 
man may marry his mother's brother's daughter or his father's sister's 
daughter; matrilateral, where a man may marry his mother's brother's 
daughter but not his father's sister's daughter; and patrilateral, where 
a man may marry his father's sister's daughter but not his mother's 


brother's daughter. In the systems of the Kariera type (to be referred to 
as system 'K') two classes of males and two classes of females are 
distinguished in each generation, an additional distinction being occa 
sionally made between younger and older relatives. In a person's own 
generation there are two terms for men, namely brother and mother's 
brother's son, and two for women, namely sister and mother's brother's 
daughter, a distinction being also made between older and younger 
brothers and sisters on the basis of actual age. In the first ascending 
generation four relationship terms are used: father, mother's brother, 
mother, and father's sister. The term 'father' covers own father, father's 
brother, mother's sister's husband, father's father's brother's son, 
mother's mother's brother's son, and so on. The term 'mother' covers 
own mother, mother's sister, father's brother's wife, mother's mother's 
sister's daughter, etc. The term for mother's brother covers the brother 
of anyone called 'mother' and the husband of a sister of any man called 
'father.' The term for father's sister covers the sister of any man called 
'father' and the wife of any man called 'mother's brother.' 

In the second ascending generation the four terms are: father's father, 
father's mother, mother's father, and mother's mother. The term for 
father's father also covers the father's father's brother, the husband of 
the father's mother's sister, and the brother of the mother's mother. The 
term for father's mother also covers her sister, the wife of a father's 
father's brother, and the sister of the mother's father. The term for 
mother's father also covers his brother, the husband of the mother's 
mother's sister, and the brother of the father's mother. The term for 
mother's mother also covers her sister, the wife of a mother's father's 
brother, and the sister of the father's father. There are, moreover, two 
special features here. First, the mother's mother's brother is identified 
with the father's father, and the father's mother's brother with the 
mother's father. And second, the grandparent-grandchild relationship is 
reciprocal, as a result of which the same term is applied to one's father's 
father as to one's son's son. All persons in the first descending genera 
tion are covered by four terms: son, daughter, sister's son, and sister's 

All in all, the Kariera distinguished twenty-two kinds of relatives in 
cluding the distinction made between older and younger brothers and 
sisters. For this purpose they utilize eighteen terms, the discrepancy be 
tween the number of terms and the kinds of relatives being due to the 
grandparent-grandchild reciprocity. 

Among the Aranda (system 'A') certain relatives grouped together in 
system 'K' are separated into two groups. Thus: 




1. father's father 

father's father 
mother's mother's 

2. father's mother 

father's mother 
mother's father's 

3. mother's father 

mother's father 
father's mother's 

4. mother's mother 

mother's mother 
father's father's 

All of these terms have, of course, their extended meanings, in addition 
to the primary ones, as already indicated. The actual number of terms 
used by the 4 A* to cover the eight kinds of relationship is, however, not 

Type of 'A' marriage 

O A 

Type of 'K' marriage 

O A 


marries O 


Ego(w) A . ^ 

FIG. 7io. ^ marries vj 

A man marries his mother's JEgO (m) 

brother's daughter. FIG. 716. 

A man marries his mother's 
mother's brother's daughter's 

eight but four, for the reason that the same term is employed to cover a 
male relative and his sister, as for example, the father's father and his 
sister. Further reduction in the number of terms when compared to the 
kinds of relatives results from the fact that certain terms are reciprocal, 



as in the 'K7 system, and that the same terms are used for grandparents 
and grandchildren. 

From the standpoint of marriage, we find that a man in the 'A' system 
may not marry first cousins ; he may marry four kinds of second cousins, 
namely, a mother's mother's brother's daughter's daughter, a father's 
mother's brother's son's daughter, a father's father's sister's son's daugh 
ter, and a mother's father's sister's daughter's daughter. There are also 
certain third and fourth cousins whom an 'A' man may marry. 

All those relatives an *A' man may marry, a *K' man may also 
marry; but the reverse is not true: the women marriageable to a C K' 
man are divided by an 'A' man into two groups: marriageable and non- 
marriageable. For example (see Fig. 71 opposite) : 

Now, the woman the 'A' man marries (or a corresponding relative in 
the Kariera tribe) would also be marriageable to a 'K' man, a mother's 
mother's brother's daughter's daughter being here classifiable with a 
mother's brother's daughter. But an C A' man could not marry the 
woman the *K' man marries (or a corresponding relative among the 
Aranda), because he may not marry a first cousin. 

Among the Kariera, with their four classes, the relationship terms and 
the corresponding relatives would fit into the class system in the follow 
ing way : 

Phratries : 







'father's father 



mother's father 



mother's brother's son 



father's sister 

daughter's son 




father's mother 

son s son 


mother's brother's 

mother's mother 



daughter's daughter 



- son's daughter 

It will, of course, be understood that the terms designating the relatives 
here enumerated are used in the sweeping way already described, with 
the result that the table as here given will cover all the individuals in 
the tribe. A similar table, indicating the correspondence between the sub 
classes and the relationship terms, could be constructed for the northern 
Aranda and the other tribes with an eight-sub-class system. For the sake 
of brevity, I shall omit it here, as well as the further interesting details 
given by Radcliffe-Brown. But enough has been said, I trust, to indicate 


what is meant by saying that in the last analysis marriage in primitive 
Australia is controlled by relationship, 20 and that the class and sub-class 
systems, as Cunow and Boas long suspected, really represent relation 
ship groupings crystallized into formal social units. 

20 Though distinguishing a larger variety of social systems in Australia than 
those formerly recognized, Radcliffe-Brown was able to show that the regulation of 
marriage is of one of the two types here described 'K' and 'A.' In some instances, 
two neighbouring tribes, though identical in social type, may yet differ in relation 
ship type and marriage regulation, for example, the Ngaluma and Mardudhunera, 
which belong to the four-class type, but the former having the 'K, s the latter, the 
*A* type of relationship system. This discussion of relationship systems in Australia 
is based on A. R. Radcliffe-Brown's study, The Social Organization of Australian 
Tribes,' Oceania, vol. I, pp. 34-63, 206-246, 322-341, 426-456. 

Chapter XXII 


The Baganda 

In passing to the gentile organization of the Baganda we are con- 
rented with a different world from that of the Iroquois, Tlingit, or 
Australians. The social scene we find in this African tribe includes 
sattle-breeding, agriculture, populous cities, roads, and taxes. The 
greater density of population, never approached in America except in 
Mexico and Peru, makes many things possible here and some necessary 
/vhich could not be thought of in a sparsely populated region. fThe 
Baganda are divided into thirty-six gentes or kika; most of the gentes 
lave two totems, and a few have even three. These totemic creatures are 
sacred to the members of the gens and are neither killed nor eaten. All 
the members of a gens trace their descent back to one human ancestor 
putatively, that is. The gentes are exogamous with the sole exception of 
the Lung-Fish gens, which is divided into two branches, differentiated 
by their second totems, between which intermarriage is permitted. When 
a Baganda woman marries she preserves her own totem, following in 
this the regular procedure of peoples with sibs; but in addition she also 
adopts her husband's totem. Baganda mothers have been known to urge 
their children to show some respect to the maternal totem, apparently 
with indifferent success. 1 

1 The fact that a woman here adopts her husband's totem and the further fact 
just mentioned about the propaganda conducted by mothers among the children in 
favour of the maternal totem, are obviously traits incompatible with a strongly felt 
gentile principle. In an orthodox totemic or even non-totemic community with sibs 
such an infringement of the unilateral hereditary principle could not be thought 
of. Facts such as this offer evidence that the gentes of the Baganda, like those 
of many of their Bantu-speaking brethren, must have originated long ago under 
conditions more like those of regular sib societies and at a time when the popula 
tion was not so dense and the membership of gentes less populous. These condi 
tions have been left far behind. What -we find now is a gentile system in the 
process of transmutation from its more primitive and regular pattern to one more 
nearly compatible with a vastly greater population and the requirements of a 
centralized political system (see pp. 387 seq.). 



Each gens is subdivided into a number of local divisions, siga, widely 
scattered over the territory of Uganda, so that the siga of one gens are 
often separated by great distances. Each local division is once more 
subdivided into a varying number of minor units or enda. 

Each gens is represented in the concrete by its component siga, which 
are really estates, often situated on hills covered with gardens and 
extending down into a valley. These estates are in charge of local 
chieftains who are responsible to the gentile chief for the conduct of 
their siga members. Although the gentes worship their own gods, a num 
ber of the gentes take charge, in addition, of one of the national gods. 
In such a case the god's temple is situated on the estate where resides 
the gentile chief who officiates in the temple as a priest. 

In addition to the siga lands each gens also owns a varying number 
of other bits of territory acquired by having not less than three genera 
tions of a branch of a gens bury their members in that locality. The 
land then is regarded as having passed into the ownership of the gens. 
This custom is frequently taken advantage of by members of a gens 
eager to appropriate certain bits of land desirable for garden purposes. 
For this reason the chiefs are actively opposed to these localized burials. 
When the members of a gens have once succeeded in securing their 
right to a plot of land, the gentile ghosts are believed to watch over its 
integrity, and even the king himself would hesitate to incur their wrath. 
Each gens owns a set of names bestowed upon individuals which no 
other gens is permitted to use. These names, which constitute part of 
the hereditary equipment of a gens, are seldom employed, however, 
other less socially distinctive names being used instead. In fact, there 
seems to be a widespread reluctance on the part of individuals to admit 
their gentile allegiance unless a particular situation makes this un 
avoidable. 2 

The minor local subdivisions of a siga, the enda, have their own petty 

2 We saw a while ago that among the Iroquois also the individual names (com 
prised in a clan set and bestowed upon individuals at a public ceremony) are not 
actually employed in address or conversation generally, relationship terms being 
used instead. This custom, then, is not local; it is, in fact, common among primi 
tives. While in particular tribes and localities it may be due to certain specific 
conditions, the general and most common cause for this avoidance is to be found 
in magical beliefs. In communities where a personal name may be used in a 
magical rite directed against its bearer, it is dangerous business to be too closely 
identifiable in wide circles of people. As a matter of self-preservation, the symbols 
of individuality are preferably kept under cover. These avoidances, characteristic 
of societies addicted to magic, are comparable to certain habits prevalent in our 
own economy-ridden society. People do not usually advertise and often disguise 
their incomes, holdings, or bank accounts, for fear of being imposed upon. 


chiefs who are held responsible for the behaviour of the members of 
their local group. All the chiefs in this hierarchy enda, siga, gens 
bear fixed hereditary titles which are bestowed upon them when they 
take office. These titles are traced back by tradition to the original 
holders of these offices. The various chieftains are given to identifying 
themselves with these original holders of their offices, even to the extent 
of referring to their apocryphal travels and other exploits as having 
been undertaken by themselves. 3 

I shall now give some illustrations of certain customs associated with 
the gentes, including their political functions. 

The Leopard gens is forbidden to eat the meat of animals scratched or 
torn by a wild beast. This gens is in charge of a temple situated on Ma- 
ganga Hill, where the mythological King Kintu is believed to have re 
sided. No member of this gens may become an heir to the throne. The 
daughters of a Leopard man are permitted to marry the king, but the 
sons issuing from such a union are doomed to strangulation. This gens 
owns four estates in one of the districts of Uganda, nine in another, two 
in still another, and one each in three other districts. The Leopard gens 
supplies the king with his chief butler, also with the man in charge of 
the king's drinking-water, who is put to death when the king dies. 

The members of the Otter gens make bark-cloth for the use of the 
king; from this gens comes one of the king's wives whose duty it is to 
make his bed; like other quasi-political functions, this duty is hereditary 
in the gens. After the king's death this particular one of his wives is 
supposed to retire to the king's temple and remain there while she lives. 
On Nsoke Hill stands a temple dedicated to the deified ghost of the 
mythological ancestor of the gens, referred to as Father. The priest 
associated with this temple must belong to the Otter gens. 

The Elephant gens people own fifty-one estates. They are chief herds 
men to the king and also supply the royal household with a favourite 
variety of fish as well as a particular kind of bark-cloth they manufac 
ture. The butter used in the embalming ceremony of a king is also pre 
pared and supplied by members of this gens. 

The Lung-Fish gens, the one subdivided into two sub-gentes claiming 

3 This hierarchy of chiefs, each with his hereditary office and localized functions, 
is another symptom of the historic development undergone by these African tribes. 
There is little doubt that the original chiefs were gentile officials. "With the multi 
plication of the population and a progressive expansion of the territory, the neces 
sities of local leadership and administration led to the emergence of several 
varities of subordinate chieftains. All of this is symptomatic of a society in a state 
of transformation from kinship groupings to territorial subdivisions subject to a 
centralized hierarchical political control. 


descent from one Father but permitted to intermarry, owns as many as 
seventy estates in different sections of Uganda. 

The Mushroom gens has two other totems, a snail and a small ivory 
disk. This gens is overburdened with duties referring to the royal house 
hold. The temple of Mende, the second god of war, is in charge of the 
Mushroom people. The royal drum is taken care of by this gens, it be 
ing the duty of a Mushroom man to carry this drum daily to the royal 
enclosure and back again. The royal stool is also in charge of this gens. 
From members of the gens come the king's gate-makers as well as the 
keepers of the gates, including that highly important personage the 
Chief -Keeper-of-the-Gates. He enjoys free access to all parts of the royal 
enclosure, which enables him to keep careful watch on the minor gate 
keepers. At the accession of a new king it is the duty of the Elephant 
gens people to deliver twenty cows to the royal enclosure; of these the 
Chief-Gate-Keeper captures and keeps ten. He also appropriates one- 
third of the first lot of tribute delivered to the new king. When the first 
chiefs arrive to pay their respects, the Chief-Gate-Keeper captures one 
of them and does not release him until after exacting from him a 
payment of ten women for the king's use. The king's gourd or drinking- 
cup is also taken care of by this gens. The king's gate-keepers, as well 
as those of the king's mother and of two of the highest chiefs, are Mush 
room people. From this gens also comes one of the king's wives whose 
duty it is to dig the first sod for the royal garden, whereupon the people 
are free to take up the cultivation. 

The other, gentes have similar totems, taboos, temples, and duties 
with reference to the royal household. 4 

Clans, Moieties and Totemism in California 

The social systems of California have been so frequently represented 
as belonging to the family-village type and lacking any of the unilateral 
hereditary groups, that it may be worth while to deal briefly with the 
more recent findings which have revealed the presence of such groups, 
in more or less developed forms, in a number of the California tribes. 

4 Vast territories, a dense population, and political centralization can obviously 
not be regarded as primitive features. These things arose in Africa in the course 
of a long process of historic growth. While this development was proceeding, we 
may conjecture, the original gentes were drawn into the rising political system, 
gradually assuming a variety of functions with reference to the official stand 
ing at the top of the political organization, namely the king. For further details 
on this exalted personage see pp. 389 seq. 



The material here presented deals with the Miwok and a number of 
tribes further south. 

The Miwok were divided into two moieties with paternal descent, 
which were exogamous theoretically, although the rule was broken fre- 


Patrilinear Totemic Sibs. 

Patrilinear Local Sibs. 

Patrilinear Totemic Moieties and Local Sibs. 

Patrilinear Totemic Moieties. 

Patrilinear Totemic Moieties with 

FT73 Information wanting, 

X Moieties, Sibs, and Totemism lacking. 
Suggestions of Matrilinear Beckoning. 

Fic. 72. EXOGAMY AND TOTEMISM IN CALIFORNIA. (Kroeber, Handbook of 
the Indians of California.) 

quently enough in practice. It was thought that nature was divided into 
water and land or a dry and a wet half, which corresponded to the two 
moieties: Kigua and Tunuka. While the meaning of Tunuka is not clear, 
Kigua is derived from kticu, water. The two halves are also jokingly re 
ferred to as Frog people and Bluejay people, sometimes also as Frog 


and Deer, or Coyote and Blue] ay. The northern division of the Miwok 
uses a word derived from walli, land, in place of Tunuka. These moieties 
are not themselves subdivided. Associated with each moiety is a long 
list of animals, plants, and objects. The natives, in fact, believe that 
everything in the world belongs to one or the other side. Each member 
of a moiety is related through his name to one of the objects characteris 
tic of his moiety. This name, given to him in infancy by a grandfather 
or other relative and retained through life, refers to one of the animals 
or objects belonging to his moiety. This relationship may, therefore, be 
described as faintly totemic. Another peculiarity of these names is that 
they do not, in the majority of cases, correspond to the word for the 
totem animal itself but indicate some action or condition referring to 
it. This reference is also vague, in so far as no specific animal is indi 
cated, but any number of animals might be meant. Thus there are two 
names, one of which denotes the yawning of an awakening bear, the 
other, the gaping of a salmon drawn out of the water. There is nothing 
in the name to indicate what animal is meant; in this case, in fact, the 
two animals belong to opposite moieties. It must, however, also be 
noted that the specific reference was known to the bearers of the name 
and their families and associates. In other words, the association was 
subjective, whereas the 'totemic* name was noncommittal in its reference. 
The same applies to any number of other names. 5 

A. L. Kroeber, who is our authority on this California material, ven 
tures the abstractly possible suggestion that these names might repre 
sent a survival of a pre-existing gentile system; but he presently rejects 
this hypothesis, and justifiably so, on the ground that no hereditary 
principle seems to be present in connexion with the names, a child not 
being named after the same animal as its father, except in so small a 
number of instances that these may be attributed to accident. From the 
author's enumeration of the animals and birds divided according to the 
two sides, Land and Water, it appears that all the water animals with 
their associated phenomena are on the appropriate side, whereas the 
Land side is not so logically carried out. The Miwok do not regard these 
'totem' animals as their ancestors. There is here, of course, the common 
Indian belief that all animals were once human or quasi-human and 
occupied the earth before true humans emerged, thus being the pred 
ecessors of mankind. This belief in and by itself, however, as the 

5 This reminds one of the equally passive part, as to totemic implication, played 
by art in Australia, where a design on the ground, for example, might mean any 
number of totems, according to the clan membership of the one who interprets the 


author notes, is not equivalent to totemic descent, nor is there any ap 
parent association among the Miwok between a 'totem' animal and a 
guardian spirit. A man named Bear, for example, may acquire a bear 
for his protector but he might also seek and adopt any other animal 
Moiety exogamy, as already stated, though definitely formulated as a 
principle by the Miwok, does not seem to have been strictly observed 
by them, at least not for some time, even though the natives state that 
marriage within one's moiety evoked protest but no active inter 
ference. At the present time, among the central Miwok, one marriage 
out of four is not exogamic. As is so often the case in other tribes, the 
moieties compete with each other in games and also assist each other at 
funerals, mourning anniversaries, and adolescent observances. 

The social organization of the Yokut, whose habitat is situated south 
and west of that of the Miwok, is in some respects similar and in others 
different from that of the latter. Here also there were two moieties, ex- 
ogamous and paternal. Marriage, however, was matrilocal, meaning 
that a husband lived with his wife's people. Here, as among the Miwok, 
certain animals were associated with each moiety, but among the Yokut 
they were also transmitted from father to child and son's child. In view 
of this and of the further fact that the Mono to the east and probably 
also the Salinan Indians to the west had a similar organization, the 
Yokut may be regarded as more definitely a part of this system than are 
the Miwok. Only a limited number of animals are associated with each 
moiety. Each of these functions as a hereditary totem of a paternally 
descended family. While the names of the people in this line of descent 
have no connexion with the totem animal, every member of the family 
regards his inherited family totem as his c dog,' the one term applied by 
the Indians to any domesticated animal or captive pet. The lines of 
paternal descent with the same totem do, however, not constitute gentes, 
in so far as they bear no group names. While there is no intermarriage 
within these groups, exogamy, as already stated, is really controlled by 
the dual division. The dual divisions of all the Yokut tribes are regarded 
as equivalent, so that a man who marries outside of his tribe feels ob 
ligated to marry into the opposite moiety from his own as he would had 
he married in his own tribe. 6 The Yokut in the neighbourhood of the 
Miwok also identify their moieties with those of the latter, the Yokut 
'Upstream' division corresponding to the Miwok Water half, whereas the 
'Downstream' corresponds to the Miwok Land moiety. The representa 
tive animal of the 'Downstream' division is the eagle, with which are as- 

6 This equivalence of moieties, as between tribe and tribe, is also found on the 
North Pacific Coast and in Australia. 


sociated the raven or crow, bluejay, road-runner, and killdeer, among the 
birds. The bear is most common among quadrupeds, while the fox, wild 
cat, jack-rabbit, beaver, and antelope also belong to this half. The most 
prominent animal of the 'Upstream' division is the coyote, and with him 
are found the falcon, buzzard, several varieties of hawks, the owl, quail, 
and skunk. In the legendary traditions tales occur of contests between 
animals in which the dual grouping is reflected, for example struggles 
between the falcon and the raven or the coyote and the eagle, or the 
eagle and the condor. In all such cases, except where the falcon is one 
of the contenders, the 'Downstream 5 animal is victorious, although the 
coyote is successful in one war of the 'Laplanders' against the lake people. 
This 'totemic' connexion with animals seems to loom considerably in 
the minds of the people. When a Yokut addresses a stranger, he does 
not ask to what moiety he belongs, but queries, 'What is your dog?' One 
should, however, not be tempted to identify these moiety animals with 
the guardian spirits of the shamans, who also, on occasion, refer to 
their guardian spirit as 'the dog.' The Yokut definitely distinguished 
between the hereditary totemic animals which they sometimes kept in 
captivity but which did not confer distinctive power on the owners, and 
the various animals, spirits, and monsters which figured in the dreams 
or trances of shamans. As among the Miwok, the moieties would take 
sides in formal games and at the mourning rites the divisions acted 
reciprocally. Each moiety also had its distinctive style of body- paint. 
As moiety descent was unilateral, the children of a brother and those of 
his sister belonged to opposite moieties. This, the author suggests, may 
have contributed to the permissibility of cross-cousin marriages among 
the Miwok, and the same type of marriages were, perhaps, valid among 
the Yokut also, although definite information in this regard is lacking. 
The western Mono, at least those on the San Joaquin and probably 
some of the local groups on other streams, had totemic moieties. In one 
respect these were different from those of the Miwok and Yokut. They 
were not exogamous: marriages took place within a moiety as well as 
between moieties. Descent was paternal, and a set of animals were asso 
ciated as 'pets' or 'dogs' with each moiety. These animals, especially the 
birds, were sometimes reared in captivity. When they grew up, they 
were either despoiled of their feathers by their masters or permitted to 
go free unharmed. The personal name here was of the Yokut rather 
than the Miwok type. It was inherited, usually meaningless, and car 
ried no totemic connotations, f As among the Yokut, there were two 
chiefs, each identified with a moiety. The chief of the one represented 
by the eagle had precedence over the other. One of the moieties cor- 


responded to the Miwok 'Land' and the Yokut 'Downstream,' the other, 
to the Miwok 'Water' and the Yokut 'Upstream.' The first had two sub 
divisions. Its totemic animals were eagle, crow and chicken-hawk. The 
other moiety also had two subdivisions, and its totemic animals were 
buzzard, coyote, a variety of hawk, and the bald eagle. It seems probable, 
as the author suggests, that Mono totemism was even looser than that of 
their neighbours. It is said that here it was even permitted to change 
one's moiety. 

Among the Serrano, considerably farther sotith, we have once more 
the exogamous and totemic moieties of the Miwok and Yokut type. As 
sociated with these is a series of bands or local subdivisions. One moiety 
is called Wild-Cat, after its chief totem ; as its other totems it has the 
puma or mountain-lion, wild-cat's older brother, and crow, its kins 
man. The other moiety is referred to as Coyote, and its other totems 
are the coyote's older brother, wolf or jaguar, and its kinsman, the buz 
zard. The word for totem means 'my great-grandparent.' The institu 
tion of moieties is traced to the Creator. Moiety members are on joking 
terms with each other. Members of the Wild-Cat moiety are reputed to 
be lazy and dull, those of the Coyote moiety, swift and perhaps unre 
liable. The precise status of the subdivisions or local divisions or bands 
is not determined with precision. Rather than being sibs, these hands 
seem to correspond to the village communities of northern and central 
California. Each band owned a creek and an adjacent tract. Its most 
permanent settlement or 'village' was usually situated where the stream 
emerged from the foot-hills. The band tended to be rigidly exogamous. 
There was a strong tendency for particular bands to intermarry. Each 
band belonged either to the Wild-Cat or the Coyote moiety. As to exog 
amy, the determining element seems to have been band rather than 
moiety membership, since some of the bands which regularly inter 
married belonged to the same moiety. Each band had its hereditary 
chief, kika. Associated with each kika was an assistant chief who had 
ceremonial functions. The moieties, at least in some instances, had cer 
tain common religious functions, while in others they figured in a re 
ciprocal way. Each moiety tended the dead of the other moiety before 
the cremation. In some instances also one moiety cooked and served 
food to the other on ceremonial occasions. 

Among the Cupena, whose social organization has undergone recent 
changes, there were two moieties, here too called Coyotes and Wild- 
Cats, the first containing four, the second three gentes. The moiety totem 
was called 'great-great-grandparent/ but the belief in descent was lack 
ing. A certain playful opposition existed between members of the two 


moieties who frequently taunted each other with heing unsteady or slow- 
witted. Mourning ceremonies were a moiety matter, but the opposite 
moiety always participated. The nature of the gentes is not clear, al 
though it is said to have been chiefly religious. 

The social organization of the Cahuilla, neighbours of the Luiseno, 
has been relatively well preserved and it may perhaps be regarded as 
corresponding to the former organization of the Luiseno, who have dis 
integrated too far to permit even a tentative reconstruction. The Cahuilla 
have moieties that are patrilineal, totemic, and exogamous. The names, 
as among the Cupeno, are Coyote and Wild-Cat. The exogamous rule is, 
at least at present, observed imperfectly. The number of gentes is large, 
while the membership of each is small. They are associated with locali 
ties or named after places. All members of a gens trace their descent in 
a male line from a relatively recent ancestor. Two or more gentes might 
inhabit one village, and the members of one gens may be found in dif 
ferent villages. On account of the paucity of data, Kroeber is uncertain 
whether -these 'gentes' are actually such, or rather represent what we 
should call paternal families comprising only actual blood-kindred. 
The totemic associations of the moieties are observable in ritual and 
myth. The images for the mourning anniversary are made by each 
moiety for the other. 

The Diegueno are divided into exogamous gentes. The totemic 
moieties, however, are lacking. The gentes are definitely associated, at 
least in the minds of the natives, with localities. The gentile names, when 
translatable, seem to be place names. Marriage here is patrilocal. 

The Mohave, the easternmost of these tribes, comprise exogamous 
nameless gentes of totemic reference. All the women born in a gens bear 
one identical name, although they may in addition also be known by 
nicknames or other epithets. These names are inferentially totemic, 
though not identical with the word used to designate the totem itself. 
The gentes have no religious functions. 

To reduce this abbreviated sketch of the unilateral systems of Cali 
fornia to a common denominator, I append a map on which the dis 
tribution of the different types of social systems is indicated. (Map, 
Fig. 72, p. 355) J 

7 This sketch is based on A. L. Kroeber's Handbook of the Indians of California. 
pp, 453-744, 

Chapter XXIII 

The Iroquois 

As already intimated a while ago, the real unit in the inheritance and 
election of chiefs among the Iroquois is not the clan as such but a 
smaller unit comprised within the clan, the so-called maternal family. 
This social group is second to no other in importance in the socio 
political organization of the Iroquois, and we must now clarify its 
structure and functioning. The term 'maternal family' is, strictly speak 
ing, a misnomer, for the group is not a family in the accepted sense of 
the term. Instead of being bilateral, as is the family, it is unilateral like 
a clan. An Iroquoian maternal family comprises a woman, her children 
male and female the children of her daughters, of her daughter's 
daughters, and so on. The number of generations in a maternal family 
may be three or four but seldom more than five, and the number of in 
dividuals comprised in one may reach fifty but seldom more than that 
(see Fig. 73, p. 362). It will be seen that in a genealogy pivoted 
in one woman there will be individuals who will not belong to that 
woman's maternal family, namely her son's children with their de 
scendants, her daughter's son's children, and so on. These persons will 
belong to other maternal families, namely those of their mothers. The 
situation, therefore, is like that encountered in a sib, when accompanied 
by exogamy. 

In general it may be said that the maternal family represents a sort of 
prototype of a clan, in so far^ts it is unilateral, comprising individuals 
related through the mothers. The difference between a maternal family 
and a clan, on the other hand, consists in the fact that whereas in a clan, 
as we saw, some or even many persons are not related by blood, though 
assumed to be so related, in a maternal family all the component in 
dividuals are connected by genealogically traceable ties of blood rela 
tionship. Another feature which distinguishes a maternal family from 
a clan is the greater readiness of the former to break up, thus forming 
new maternal families, a phenomenon which has been known to occur 
also in clans, but not so frequently or typically. The head of such a 



family is a woman, the oldest one in the group, who in the typical and 
original form is the actual biological progenitor of the group, in a true 
sense, a group-mother. With reference to the Iroquois it is customary 
to designate her as the 'matron' of the maternal family. When a matron 
dies she may leave a number of daughters differing, more or less, in age. 
The rule is that the oldest of the daughters becomes the new matron of 
the family. But suppose this oldest woman is less popular or wise or 


0= A AT* AT * = 

AyA 1 = 1 L^O IjA 1 

rin ^zh= A 


In this sample of a small maternal family, the component individuals are marked 
by black circles (women) and black triangles (men). Those represented by white 
circles and triangles do not belong to this maternal family. 

otherwise fit for leadership than the next sister, who is a little younger. 
In such a case it might happen, and did in fact occur, that either the 
older sister will be side-tracked in favour of the younger one, or some 
of the members of the original maternal family, perhaps the direct 
descendants of the oldest sister, will cling to her, as the rightful heir to 
leadership, while others, perhaps the direct descendants of the younger 
sister, will prefer to submit to the latter's leadership and will split off 
from the original maternal family with the younger sister as their 
matron. In such a case two maternal families will be the result. Such 
instances, as I have said, have actually occurred among the Iroquois, as 
well as other forms of splitting off from a maternal family. 

The major function of the Iroquois maternal family is a political one, 
in so far as each of the fifty chieftainships of the League is a hereditary 
prerogative of a maternal family. This chieftainship, though hereditary, 
is also, within the limits of the maternal family, elective: theoretically, 


that is, any man within the genealogical tree of maternal descent may 
succeed to the chieftainship, after the death of the former incumbent. 
Thus a younger brother may succeed his older brother or a sister's son 
may succeed his mother's brother (that is, in our terminology, a ma 
ternal nephew succeeds his maternal uncle), or a sister's daughter's son 
succeeds the mother's mother's brother (that is, in our terminology, a 
maternal great-nephew succeeds his maternal great-uncle). As a matter 
of fact, however, by far the most frequent successions among the 
Iroquois were from older to younger brother or from maternal uncle to 
maternal nephew. 

The matron of a maternal family had everything to do in connexion 
with the selection of the successor as well as his appointment as a chief. 
When a chief died, a messenger was sent out with the news. He would 
run from village to village emitting the traditional call, gwd-d! gwa-d! 
gwd-d! Then the people knew that a chief was dead. When the precise 
facts were ascertained, the matron of the deceased's maternal family 
who, it will be remembered, was frequently his own mother determined 
upon the successor, say her next younger son. Thereupon she called a 
meeting of her maternal family, which comprised, in the first place, the 
women and men of that group, but was also attended by other members of 
the clan of which the maternal family was a part. All informants are 
agreed, however, that at such meetings the controlling voice was that of 
the maternal family of the deceased and, within the family, that of the 
women of the group rather than the men. Then the matron presented 
the name of the candidate to the gathering which, at least in ancient 
days, invariably ratified her choice. In more recent days, when the 
prestige of the matron began to wane, sharp differences of opinion have 
been known to arise on such occasions, or even more violent conflicts, 
perhaps leading to a splitting up of the family. When the candidate 
suggested by the matron was thus ratified, she was constituted a walking 
delegate, and in this capacity called individually upon all the chiefs of 
the clans belonging to the phratry of the deceased, that is, the chiefs of 
the so-called Brother Clans. Upon ratification of the candidate by these, 
she then called individually upon the chiefs of the clans of the opposite 
phratry, that is, of the Cousin Clans. When these also had ratified her 
choice, the name of the candidate was next presented by the matron to 
the council of League chiefs for their ratification. In this final instance 
ratification was taken for granted, as apparently it was invariably ac 
corded. At the same meeting the council of League chiefs determined 
upon the date of the formal or ceremonial 'raising' of the new chief, an 
event much heralded and accompanied by elaborate and impressive 


proceedings, in the course of which the names of all the chiefs of the 
League were publicly recited, and the new chief was reminded of the 
functions and duties of an Iroquois chieftain. After this he started upon 
the exercise of his chiefly functions. 

The chiefs dependence upon the matron was not at an end, even 
then. Jealously she continued to watch over his activities and behaviour. 
If these were deemed satisfactory, nothing further happened, and in time 
her vigilance became relaxed. On the other hand, if the new chief 
deviated in any way from the behaviour expected of an Iroquois chief 
tain if, for example, he was guilty of prevarication, or permitted 
himself to lose his temper, or worse still, if he became involved in 
any treacherous dealings with the League's traditional enemies, such 
as the Algonquin the matron proceeded to take steps to warn the 
derelict, and ultimately to depose him. After the first offence she called 
upon him and in ceremonial tones reminded him of his unworthy be 
haviour, concluding with a warning that, in case his misbehaviour con 
tinued, she would call on him once more and then again for the last 
time, accompanied by a warrior chief, and would then depose him. As 
human matters go, if the chief was the sort of a person who would 
offend once, he was likely to do it again. Then the matron, true to her 
warning, called on him for the second time and, standing before him in 
formal posture, delivered the following standardized address : 'I am now 
admonishing you again to desist from your evil ways, and should you 
further refuse to accede to and obey this request, then I shall call upon 
you for the third and last time accompanied by a warrior chief. I shall 
take the deer's horns [symbol of chiefly rank] from off your head and 
with a broad-edged stone ax I shall cut the tree down [meaning that she 
will depose him from his position as a chief of the Confederacy]. Then 
your duties as chief of our family and clan will cease and you shall be 
chief no longer.' 

If the behaviour of the chief remained unsatisfactory, the matron in 
due time carried out her threat. She called upon him, accompanied by 
a warrior chief who went through the motions of taking the deer's horns 
from off the chiefs head and handing them to the matron. After this act 
the chief was regarded as deposed and the matron presently informed 
the chiefs of the League of what had occurred. In cases such as this the 
League council would meet in special session, as hurriedly as possible, 
and instead of initiating the usual procedure of nomination and election 
of a new chief, they would appoint a successor at that very session. 

It will be clear from what was said that even though no woman, so 


far as known, ever occupied the position of a regular chief in the Iro- 
quois Confederacy, women were more influential than men both in the 
election of chiefs and in their deposition. In other words, the public 
opinion of the clan and maternal family was involved in the limited 
choice of these chieftains, and that public opinion was more significantly 
that of the women than of the men of the group. 

The available data on the relation of the maternal family to the old 
long-house residences of the Iroquois are not by any means satisfactory. 
While some authors continue to state that a long-house in olden days 
was the home of a maternal family, or that the members of a maternal 
family occupied a single long-house, there is no certainty that this was 
actually the case. In point of the specific individuals constituting the 
household of a long-house, the assumption of a one-long-house one- 
maternal-family arrangement is certainly incorrect. We saw a minute ago 
that the children of the matron's sons, for example, did not belong to 
her maternal family; but we know that they lived in her long-house. 
What seems to have been the fact, however, is that certain long-houses 
were identified with particular maternal families, in so far as the larger 
number of the members of such a family lived in the house, and in so 
far also as the majority of the residents of the house belonged to one 
maternal family, and in so far, finally, as the dominant tone of the house 
hold was determined by such considerable overlapping between it and 
a maternal family. There is good reason to believe that a number of 
ceremonial functions were associated with maternal families, although 
here, once more, more precise data are unavailable, except in one mat 
ter. The preparation of the famous medicine ga'noda, which according 
to tradition was made up of the constituent parts of many animals and had 
the property of curing a large number of diseases, was an hereditary pre 
rogative of certain maternal families. Fifty maternal families comprised 
chieftainships, others did not. But the social status of all was the same. 

The matrons of all the maternal families of the League, as a 
group, also functioned as a unit in a socially constructive direction, by 
exercising as a body a restraining influence upon the behaviour of the 
young warriors whenever such restraint seemed to them desirable. Con 
sidering the ease with which warfare could break out under the old 
conditions of traditional enmity, say between the Iroquois and Algon 
quin, many a devastating war must have been averted by the wise coun 
sel of the matrons, who would warn the young and impetuous warriors, 
before it was too late, against dangerous attacks or discourtesies and 
thus prolong the duration of peace. It will be easily understood that 


Iroquois braves, many of them potential chiefs, could ill afford to dis 
regard the opinion or counsel of the matrons on whom their chances of 
attaining chieftainship so largely depended. 1 

The Patwin 

Another sample of the unilateral family, in this case paternal, has been 
found among the Patwin, a southern branch of the Wintun Indians of 
northern California. This is what McKern says of blood relationship 
among these people: 'It was regarded paternally. While blood affinity 
in the female line of descent was known to exist as a fact in nature, 
tradition was here the defining factor rather than natural law. Tradi 
tionally, then, one's maternal relatives were not regarded as one's folk 
in a consanguineous sense. Nor were they entitled to family privileges. 
This was true to the degree that a man might marry his cross-cousin, the 
daughter of his mother's brother, but it was taboo for him to marry the 
daughter of his father's brother. The family accordingly consisted,' 
continues the author, 'of the patriarch or headman, his brothers (he 
being the elder), his sisters and sons and daughters, his son's children, 
his brother's sons, and much other paternal descendants as he might 
have.' By all signs then we have here a typical paternal family in com 
position, a fact further stressed by the author's statement that a woman 
belonging to such a family would not lose her traditional membership 
in it after marriage. 

Certain kinds of personal property were passed on by inheritance 
along the paternal family line. Almost invariably, these things were 
willed to the incumbent before the death of the owner, and the recipient 
was 'the next in the paternal line of descent.' Among the things so willed 
might be included, for example, a ceremonial costume or pipe, a feather 
belt, some shell beads, a magical stone, or a secret medicinal formula. 
A paternal family possessed no house or houses it could call its own, 
nor did it constitute one household, but that portion of a dwelling house 
in which some of the members of one paternal family resided was the 
joint property of that family, as well as such household utensils as 

1 Some fifteen years ago, when the predecessor of this volume, Early Civiliza 
tion, first appeared, it was justifiable to regard the Iroquois maternal family as 
an exceptional phenomenon. Since then parallel instances have been discovered in 
more than one tribe and territory. What then had seemed an exception and almost 
an unicum, now appears to be a fairly common tendency of primitive social or 
ganization. It should not surprise me, in fact, if within the next few years the 
unilateral descent group or lineage should be found to constitute a frequent func 
tional unit among primitive tribes (for further examples see below). 


food baskets, mats, mortars, pestles, cooking and eating utensils, and 
also the granary. WTien the head of a household died, these articles 
of property, of which he was merely a custodian, descended into the 
keeping of the next person in line of paternal descent whose household 
might use or need these articles. The headman of the paternal family, 
some of the members of which belonged to the household of which the 
head had died, determined upon the individual who was to replace the 
deceased headman. It should be understood then that the head of the 
household was merely a custodian of the properties owned as an heredi 
tary privilege by the paternal family some members of which formed 
part of the particular household. Upon the death of the last male repre 
sentative of the paternal family which owned these objects, they were 
buried, burned, or destroyed in some other way. Individual names, as 
among the Iroquois, were the property not of individuals but of a group, 
with the difference that whereas among the Iroquois the clan, not the 
maternal family, owned the names, among the Patwin it was the paternal 
family. Each person, male or female, received the name of the nearest 
deceased paternal relative. After the death of an individual, the name 
was returned to the family store of unclaimed names (the Iroquois, it 
will be remembered, called this 'putting the name away in a box'), to 
be used by the nearest paternal male relative when born. 

Though the headmen of paternal families were important and in 
fluential, the village chief stood above them. As his position and func 
tions were interrelated with those of the family headmen, a few words 
must be said about the village chief. His position was hereditary and 
whenever possible passed from father to son. A very definite system 
of primacy existed among paternal relatives who could succeed a chief. 
The order was: elder son, younger son, elder brother, younger brother, 
elder brother's sons, younger brother's sons, father's elder brother, fa 
ther's younger brother, elder son's sons, younger son's sons, father's 
elder brother's sons, father's younger brother's sons, brother's son's 
sons, and finally, father's brothers' sons* sons. If there were several 
persons in any of these categories, they belonged to the line of succes 
sion in the order of their ages. Though relationship to the dead chief 
was a primary qualification for succession, ability and popularity also 
counted, especially in the following situations: when there were two 
candidates of equal paternal affinity to the deceased chief; when the de 
ceased chief was the last representative of his line; and when a new 
village unit was being organized. 

The power of a chief was great; deposition was out of the question, 
and when a chief resigned in favour of his son, he did so voluntarily. 


Anyone who disobeyed him was forced to leave the village. If disloyalty 
was shown by a group rather than an individual, such a group would 
leave the village, and if sufficiently strong, might establish an inde 
pendent community. Even in such extreme cases, moreover, the chief 
elected to head the new village was, if possible, a paternal relative of the 
former chief. The elders participating in councils were chosen by the 
village chief from the oldest and most respected family headmen. At 
all such councils the final word belonged to the chief. When an im 
portant political or territorial matter was due for discussion, the chief 
was notified.. If he felt that the occasion so warranted, he would then 
call a council of elders or family heads. 'Meeting at the chief's house, 
they would build a great fire on the hearth place, close the door and 
smoke-hole with skins or mats, and "sweat." While they were sweating, 
the question would be brought up and discussed lengthily. The chief 
usually took very little part in such discussions. Nor would he, as a 
rule, announce his decision at the conclusion of the meeting. When the 
chief declared the council at an end, the members would run out of 
the house and plunge into the river. After a swim they would return to 
their respective homes. This council meeting was designated by the 
natives by a term meaning "they who meet together by sweating." ' 
The chief, who was expected to be familiar with the local centres of food- 
supply and the proper time for harvesting, divided the nut-, fruit-, and 
seed-producing localities belonging to the villages into sub-areas, which 
were assigned by him to the various families during harvest-time. These 
'picking-grounds' were reassigned each season, in accordance with the 
relative sizes of the various families. Meat products also, such as fish, 
flesh, or fowl, provided they were of sufficient quantity, were brought 
to the chief, who distributed them to the various households. At the be 
ginning of the fish-spawning season, the chief announced a certain day 
to be devoted to fishing by the entire community; on that day all were 
obliged to fish, nor was anyone permitted to fish before the appointed 
time. Daughters or sisters of a chief enjoyed special social distinction 
children were forbidden to laugh in their presence and adults treated 
them with respect. A chief's wife, apparently, was not thus honoured, 
indicating that the prestige implied followed the lineage. 

The author refers to the paternal family groups as 'functional fami 
lies.' Each functional family was the possessor of an esoteric ritual or 
medicine. These were family property inherited by it as a unit, so that 
its individual members living in different villages had no exclusive claim 
to their use. Individuals also owned their personal charms, provided 


they were 'active' members. These charms, like other personal posses 
sions, were inherited in the male line. 

In his study McKern classifies these functional families into cere 
monial, trade, shamanistic, and official families. A family in posses 
sion of certain secret medicines and individual charms was qualified 
to perform a specified ceremony. In such cases the ceremony and the 
family were known by the same name. These ceremonies or dances were 
held once a year in the ceremonial house and witnessed by all mem 
bers of the family, but the active participants were men only. It should 
be noted that the family 'secret' here was not the ceremonial activity 
as such, dance-step and the like, but rather the medicine and its prepara 
tion. This family prerogative had to be exercised before the ceremony 
could be performed. 

Each trade family was fitted for the performance of a particular 
economic function by the possession of inherited charms or medicines. 
Thus one family specialized in salmon-fishing, another in the making 
of arrow-points, still another in goose-hunting or duck-trapping. Other 
families prepared salt, or manufactured ceremonial drums. (These 
drums were hollowed-out sycamore logs from six to eight feet in 
length ; they were placed upside down in the dance-house and beaten by 
the drummer with his feet.) There was also a family which specialized 
in making ceremonial head-dresses. All these trade families exercised 
their functions through the men only. When, as in the case of the canoe- 
basket family, the actual craftsmen were the women, the descent of 
these techniques was passed on as usual in the male line, that is, not from 
a woman to her daughter but to her brother's daughter. Shamanism was 
always the function of a shamanistic family. In addition to the inherited 
right of certain charms and secret rites connected with shamanistic 
practices, a man of such a family was prepared for his art by a paternal 
instructor, himself a shaman, who exercised his own supernatural powers 
to induce the spirits to commune with the novice and to listen to the 
latter *s incantations. A village might have several shamanistic families, 
each independent of the others and with its own ritualistic secrets and 
medicines. The shamans were always men. 

In an official family, the actual family function was exercised only 
by one member at a time, although the family prestige extended to all 
members. For example, the fire-tender in the so-called hesi dance be 
longed to a family in which that function was hereditary. He was a 
possessor of a charm and a secret magical formula which ensured his 
success in the performance of this function. The functional families had 


names some of which can no longer be translated; those that can are 
descriptive of the family functions. 

It is interesting to note what the author says about the practice of 
adoption. Some of the families of the Patwin apparently had no tradi 
tional functions. These, we are informed, contained exclusively indi 
viduals who were actually related by descent. They were, then, paternal 
families in the strict sense. Those families, on the other hand, which 
had functional peculiarities, apparently the majority, often included 
individuals of assumed rather than actual relationship to the family: 
such were the persons adopted into a family. Tf a shaman,' writes the 
author, 'had no near paternal relative upon whom to bequeath the 
charms and secrets of his practice, or if the proper paternal descendant 
lacked ability or interest, a youth with no consanguiniary claim to the 
privilege but credited with mental capabilities and a receptive attitude 
might be selected by the shaman to be his successor. For this privilege 
he would pay the adopting shaman a standardized sum. He would be 
given a name from the supply pertaining to the shaman's family and 
would then serve an apprenticeship under his benefactor's instruction. 
Thenceforth he would be considered a regular member of that particu 
lar shamanistic family, not only the possessor of the family's charms 
and medicines, but as the undisputed blood descendant of his prede 
cessor and instructor.' 2 When a shaman was in especially high re 
pute, it was customary for several ceremonial families to adopt him, 
in which case he was regarded as related by descent to all such families. 
'Thus the element of adoption in no way weakened the importance of 
paternal descent as the basic element in such institutions,' concludes 
the author. 'Descent might be true and might be fictitious, but it was al 
ways essential,' It will be readily seen that families with such adopted 
members were really gentes in miniature. 

If for one reason or another, some individual did n